ConAgra has removed diacetyl, the controversial chemical from its microwave popcorn. The chemical gives the snack a buttery, creamy taste. ConAgra manufactures more than half of the nation’s microwave popcorn. Workers exposed to the airborne chemical in plants making microwave popcorn have been diagnosed with a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Although the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have specific regulations regarding diacetyl, it did issue a Safety and Health Information Bulletin in September with recommendations for safety and health standards for its use.
ConAgra began reformulating its popcorn over a year ago as a worker safety issue. The company began removing diacetyl from its production lines in November and is in the final stages of taking it out of all products now. By January, reportedly none of the company’s products will contain diacetyl. ConAgra is the nation’s largest producer of popcorn, under its Orville Redenbacher and Act II brands.
The nation’s second-largest producer, General Mills, sells popcorn under the Pop Secret brand. It removed diacetyl from its products in October. The third-largest producer, American Pop Corn Co. of Sioux City, Iowa, sells under the Jolly Time brand. It also is reformulating its flavorings to remove diacetyl.
Diacetyl is a chemical that occurs naturally in many foods, especially dairy products, coffee, and wine. As a flavoring ingredient, it gives a creamy, buttery taste to manufactured products. It has long been used in microwave popcorn to add to the butter flavor.