Popcorn Makers to Drop Chemical From Recipes

ConAgra Foods, whose popcorn includes the Orville Redenbacher's brand, said it will change its butter flavoring to protect its factory workers.
ConAgra Foods, whose popcorn includes the Orville Redenbacher's brand, said it will change its butter flavoring to protect its factory workers. (By Nati Harnik -- Associated Press)

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Associated Press
Thursday, September 6, 2007

The nation's biggest microwave popcorn makers are working to remove a flavoring chemical from their products linked to a lung ailment in popcorn plant workers while reassuring consumers about the safety of the snack.

ConAgra Foods, General Mills and the American Pop Corn Co. said they planned to change the recipes for their butter-flavored microwave popcorn to remove diacetyl. Together those companies accounted for more than 80 percent of the market for microwave popcorn over the past 12 months, according to the research firm Information Resources.

The chemical diacetyl has been linked to cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare life-threatening disease often called popcorn lung.

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said the change will not affect its popular stovetop popcorn, Jiffy Pop, because it contains natural butter instead of the threatening chemical.

Weaver Popcorn of Indianapolis said last week that it would replace the butter flavoring ingredient in its popcorn because of consumer concern.

ConAgra, which makes Orville Redenbacher and Act II popcorn, does not know how soon it will be able to replace diacetyl with a different butter flavoring, Childs said, but the change will be made within the next year. The Omaha company has already been making changes at its popcorn plants over the past few years to reduce employees' exposure to diacetyl, she said.

The company said it does not think diacetyl in popcorn represents a safety risk to consumers.

General Mills, which sells but doesn't make Pop Secret popcorn, said it planned to phase out diacetyl soon, but company spokesman Tom Forsythe said he wasn't sure how quickly that could be done.

A spokeswoman for American Pop Corn, which makes Jolly Time, said the company has been working on a new recipe without diacetyl for several months.

The only reported case of the disease in a non-factory worker involves a man who popped the corn every day and inhaled the smell from the bag.

"He really liked microwave popcorn. He made two or three bags every day for 10 years," said William Allstetter, a spokesman for National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, where the man's respiratory illness was diagnosed.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association said the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of diacetyl as a flavor ingredient, and diacetyl occurs naturally in foods such as butter, cheese and fruits.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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