Burden of respiratory abnormalities in microwave popcorn and flavouring manufacturing workers

Occup Environ Med. 2018 Oct;75(10):709-715. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105150. Epub 2018 Jul 25.


Objectives: Diacetyl, a butter flavour compound used in food and flavouring production, is a respiratory toxin. We characterised the burden of respiratory abnormalities in workers at popcorn and flavouring manufacturing facilities that used diacetyl as evaluated through US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) health hazard evaluations.

Methods: We performed analyses describing the number and percentage of current and former workers from popcorn and flavouring manufacturing facilities where NIOSH administered a respiratory health questionnaire and spirometry testing who met case definitions of suspected flavouring-related lung disease. Case definitions were pathologist reported: lung biopsy pathology report stating supportive of/consistent with constrictive bronchiolitis or bronchiolitis obliterans; probable: obstructive/mixed spirometric pattern with forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) <60% predicted; possible: obstructive/mixed spirometric pattern with FEV1 ≥60% or any spirometric restriction; symptoms only: normal spirometry plus exertional dyspnoea or usual cough.

Results: During 2000-2012, NIOSH collected questionnaire and spirometry data on 1407 workers (87.0% current, 13.0% former) at nine facilities in eight states. After applying case definitions, 4 (0.3%) were classified as pathologist reported, 48 (3.4%) as probable, 234 (16.6%) as possible and 404 (28.7%) as symptoms only. The remaining 717 (51.0%) workers had normal spirometry without exertional dyspnoea or usual cough. Seven of 11 workers with biopsies did not meet the pathologist-reported case definition, although four met probable and three met possible.

Conclusions: This approach demonstrates the substantial burden of respiratory abnormalities in these workers. A similar approach could quantify the burden of respiratory abnormalities in other industries that use diacetyl.

Keywords: bronchiolitis obliterans; diacetyl; flavourings; respiratory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diacetyl / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Flavoring Agents / toxicity*
  • Food-Processing Industry*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Respiration Disorders / chemically induced*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Diacetyl