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Food companies plan to halt use of suspect butter flavor

Popcorn companies plan to remove diacetyl from their products because the flavoring has been linked to a rare lung disease. Popcorn companies plan to remove diacetyl from their products because the flavoring has been linked to a rare lung disease. (NATI HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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

On Tuesday, Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center warned that consumers also could be in danger from the buttery flavoring, diacetyl. Doctors there believe they have the first case of a consumer who developed lung disease from the fumes of microwaving popcorn several times a day for years.

The three companies that sell Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret, and Jolly Time microwave popcorn said they plan to remove diacetyl. It has been linked to cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare life-threatening disease.

ConAgra Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., and American Pop Corn Co. all promised to make the change. Last week, Weaver Popcorn Co. said it would replace the flavoring ingredient due to consumer concern.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said the change is welcome, even though the butter flavor may not present a significant risk to consumers and that trans fat is a greater concern.

Popcorn makers said consumers worried about diacetyl can buy popcorn that is not butter flavored, without diacetyl.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association said the hospital's finding does not suggest a risk from eating the popcorn.

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