Following media reports of buttered popcorn sold in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City found to contain diacetyl, a chemical that can be harmful to human health, the Food Safety Department has asked its affiliates in the two cities to take samples of the food for testing.
Accordingly, the Food Safety Sub-departments in Hanoi and HCMC will test the popcorn to detect diacetyl, identify its concentrations, and determine how it affects human health.
Diacetyl (DA), also called butan-2,3-dion ((CH3CO)2), is said to be used by manufacturers of buttered popcorn to flavor their products as a replacement for butter, since this chemical is very sweet-smelling and even more aromatic than butter when it evaporates, Dr Nguyen Huu Duc, from the HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University, told Sai Gon Tiep Thi Newspaper.
DA is also used to enhance the flavor of margarine, snacks, candy, and even wine and beer.
Nearly ten years ago, Dr Duc said, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began to learn about the hazards of DA for people who inhaled it over a long period of time.
The warning was made after many workers at food factories that used DA as an additive contracted a respiratory disease called constrictive bronchiolitis or brochiolitis obliterans (BO).
After many investigations and studies, scientists eventually identified DA as the perpetrator and nicknamed diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans “pop corn worker’s lung disease.”
The disease, with symptoms similar to those of pneumonia, bronchitis, or asthma, is hard to cure and is chronic. In serious cases, patients need to have a lung transplant.
DA may also affect the liver and kidneys and can cause protein metabolism disorder.
After 2007, many people in the US demanded that DA be banned from foods. In reaction, Weaver Popcorn Company of Indianapolis and ConAgra Foods promised not to add DA into their popcorn.
However, to date the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) still recognizes DA as safe for use in food, Dr Duc said.