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Is microwave popcorn unhealthy?

Popcorn lovers take note: microwave popcorn may be convenient, but it also may be hiding a potentially unhealthy substance, and it’s not the butter. It is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical that is found in the lining of microwave popcorn bags.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is used by companies to make fluoropolymers, substances that have special properties such as the ability to resist fire, oil, grease, and water. This characteristic is highly desirable in substances that can be used to coat the inside of microwave popcorn bags to repel grease and moisture and the inside of non-pstick cooking utensils (Teflon®). When the chemicals used to line these bags are heated, some release PFOA, which an EPA scientific advisory panel has identified as a likely human carcinogen.

A study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify just how much PFOA migrates from a microwave popcorn bag into the popcorn. It found that a very small amount of the chemical did leach into the popcorn, but no warnings were issued about its health dangers. The FDA study did estimate that blood levels of PFOA from microwave popcorn may account for about 20 percent of the average amount found in the blood of Americans, which means consumers need to worry about more than microwave popcorn when it comes to PFOA.

PFOA has been linked with liver, pancreatic, and testicular cancer as well as reproductive disturbances in laboratory animals. It has also been found to sicken humans and birds when outgassed from overheating cooking vessels coated with Teflon. PFOA is known to accumulate and linger in the body once it is ingested.

But PFOA is not the only dangerous substance that could be lurking in your popcorn. An artificial butter flavoring called diacetyl was believed to be the cause of a rash of a potentially deadly respiratory disease that struck two dozen workers in a microwave popcorn plant in 2001. Although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health believed that exposure to the artificial butter flavoring was behind the disease that destroys lung tissue and for the fact that 130 plant employees had twice the national average rates of asthma and bronchitis, it still said it believed it was safe for people to eat microwave popcorn and other foods that used diacetyl.

For now, DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out their use of PFOA by 2015 under an EPA voluntary plan. Since diacetyl is deemed safe by the FDA, no action is planned for this substance. To minimize exposure to PFOA, microwave popcorn lovers may want to choose another way to enjoy their popcorn, say with a hot-air popper or the traditional skillet and stove method of making popcorn.

Begley TH et al. Food Additives and Contaminants 2005 Oct 22 (10): 1023-31
Environmental Working Group, June 6, 2006


Asked by Ballad at 10:31 PM on Mar. 3, 2013 in Food & Drink

Level 45 (193,996 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (8)
  • Yuck! Sur la Table has a great glass container that you can use in the microwave to make popcorn. It even has a lid that you put butter in and it melts perfectly onto the popcorn.

    Answer by booklover545 at 7:27 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • LOL, I was going to say no!
    Didn't realize you had a dissertation.

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 11:03 PM on Mar. 3, 2013

  • I think,no.

    Answer by kity-bity at 4:40 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • We're not big popcorn eaters. I do pop the occasional bag in the microwave, no big deal. I can't go through life terrified of everything that I put in or on my body.

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 8:14 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • I just don't care for microwave popcorn.We have one of the glass popcorn makers ....we love popcorn made in the glass popcorn maker or stove.

    Answer by drfink at 9:52 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • I hate microwave poppcirn. The smell is horrible.

    Answer by PandaGwen at 10:31 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • I didn't read the whole thing you wrote but I did know that it was bad for you to eat a lot of. There were a few law suits brought against the Companies that make it by many Employees that have gotten very sick from working at these plants. So everything in moderation I guess.


    Answer by ILovemyPaulie at 11:42 AM on Mar. 4, 2013

  • I love popcorn made in a skillet on the stove. I'm definitely going to look into the Sur la Table popper for the microwave.

    Comment by Ballad (original poster) at 12:27 PM on Mar. 4, 2013