Microwave Popcorn May Be Unhealthy Choice

2009-12-11 00:42

Popcorn lovers take note: microwave popcorn may be convenient, but it also may be hiding a potentially unhealthy substance, and it’s not the butter. It is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical that is found in the lining of microwave popcorn bags.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is used by companies to make fluoropolymers, substances that have special properties such as the ability to resist fire, oil, grease, and water. This characteristic is highly desirable in substances that can be used to coat the inside of microwave popcorn bags to repel grease and moisture and the inside of non-pstick cooking utensils (Teflon®). When the chemicals used to line these bags are heated, some release PFOA, which an EPA scientific advisory panel has identified as a likely human carcinogen.

A study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify just how much PFOA migrates from a microwave popcorn bag into the popcorn. It found that a very small amount of the chemical did leach into the popcorn, but no warnings were issued about its health dangers. The FDA study did estimate that blood levels of PFOA from microwave popcorn may account for about 20 percent of the average amount found in the blood of Americans, which means consumers need to worry about more than microwave popcorn when it comes to PFOA.


PFOA has been linked with liver, pancreatic, and testicular cancer as well as reproductive disturbances in laboratory animals. It has also been found to sicken humans and birds when outgassed from overheating cooking vessels coated with Teflon. PFOA is known to accumulate and linger in the body once it is ingested.


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