Last October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finalized a warning to coffee workers, popcorn plant workers and other food and beverage-making workers about the dangers of diacetyl exposure.
Diacetyl is a naturally occurring chemical in the coffee-roasting process, and can be artificially added to other foods and drinks, such as microwave popcorn, baking products, and beer. The flavoring is an enhancement that mimics the creamy, smooth taste of butter.
According to the FDA, it is safe to eat in trace amounts, but breathing it has been linked to serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis obliterans, a deadly disease in which the smallest airways of the lungs become scarred and restricted.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as many as 600,000 people that work in the coffee industry, putting them at risk for the development of lifetime breathing difficulties.
According to Christina Spring, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the research arm of the CDC, it’s vitally important that workers know of the dangers. “Employers need to understand what steps can be taken to protect the health of their workers,” she says.
In the 2000’s, hundreds of worker injuries and a number of deaths were linked to diacetyl exposure in microwave popcorn plants throughout Missouri, California and Illinois. Many of the workers were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans. After the incidents, the disease earned the nickname “popcorn lung.”
The government was urged to create regulations as public health experts found “compelling epidemiologic and toxicological evidence linking exposure to diacetyl to severe respiratory impairment and disease.” However, NIOSH didn’t draft exposure limit recommendations until 2011, and the regulations weren’t finalized until last year.
“When it comes to natural or artificial diacetyl, diacetyl is diacetyl,” said Lauralynn McKernan, associate director for science with NIOSH’s Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies. “We’re focused on getting diacetyl exposures down.”
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel