Diacetyl (also called 2,3-butanedione), is a chemical that has been used to impart a butter-like flavor to food products, including popcorn. This chemical has been used as a marker of exposure to flavoring vapors in investigations evaluating lung disease in microwave popcorn manufacturing facilities.1 Acetoin (also called acetyl methyl carbinol), 2,3-pentanedione, 2,3 hexanedione and 2,3 heptanedione are all structurally related to diacetyl and have been suggested as possible substitutes for diacetyl.
Animal studies of exposure to butter flavoring vapors, including diacetyl, have shown airway injury in rats after acute inhalation of these flavorings.1,2 These studies demonstrated that butter flavoring vapors are capable of causing severe airway injury in laboratory animals, but the causal relationship between diacetyl exposure and development of bronchiolitis obliterans has not been firmly established. Research continues on diacetyl and other flavoring chemicals to evaluate the relationship of exposure to butter flavorings and adverse health effects, including lung disease.
1 Fixed Obstructive Lung Disease in Workers at a Microwave Popcorn Factory --- Missouri, 2000--2002. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 51(16);345-7, (2002, April 26).
2 Hubbs A., et al. "Necrosis of Nasal and Airway Epithelium in Rats Inhaling Vapors of Artificial Butter Flavoring". Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 185(2002): 128-135.
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