Apparently so. Or rather, heated diacetyl, a chemical used to make the synthetic butter used in popcorn production, can inflame the lung's small passageways, making it difficult for victims to exhale. The condition the severe form of which is called bronchiolitis obliterans has long been known to affect workers toiling in the popcorn manufacturing sector, but has never been known to afflict consumers.
Until now, that is.
Enter Wayne Watson, a furniture salesman from Centennial, Colorado, who had a two-bag- a-day habit of microwaved popcorn. It seems that after a long day pushing ottomans and loveseats, Mr. Watson liked nothing better than to throw a couple bags of corn into the microwave, heat it up, and inhale deeply as the freshly opened bag's aroma invaded his nostrils.
His choice of poison? Buttery popcorn. His diagnosis? Popcorn lung. "[I]t's one of those things that you kind of shake your head and say, how can anybody eat that much popcorn? But it was about two bags a day every day for about ten years," Watson told CBS Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.
Lucky for us, diacetyl's insalubrious effects are most potent when the popcorn is heated. That means the 6-ounce bag of room temperature MixMatch Gourmet Cheese & Caramel Popcorn I just inhaled won't be swelling my lungs anytime soon. My lungs may be safe, but my belly swollen with 1,008 MixMatch-Gourmet-Cheese-&-Caramel-Popcorn calories is distended like a bloated toad.
Bright orange and savory, MixMatch Gourmet Cheese & Caramel Popcorn has that same synthetic cheddar flavoring as those gift tins that pop up around the holidays. But MixMatch Gourmet Cheese & Caramel Popcorn has something more: The bag's contents are studded with sweet caramel corn, giving the whole salty blend a sweet punctuation. The taste is inoffensive, and if it weren't for the essence of soybean oil that is unleashed upon dental contact, a bag of MixMatch Gourmet Cheese & Caramel Popcorn wouldn't be half bad. But MixMatch Gourmet Cheese & Caramel Popcorn is a "popcorn" in which the ingredient "popped corn" appears third on the "Caramel Corn" ingredients list right behind sugar and corn syrup.
The product's "popped corn" quotient fares little better in its "Cheese Corn" incarnation. Here it lands second on the ingredients list, right behind "Cheese Flavor," which is composed primarily of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, dehydrated cheddar cheese, cream and salt.
Health food it ain't. On the other hand, it could be worse. It could be piping hot.