Terror Diacetyl: The Coffee Flavoring Agent of Dea...

Terror Diacetyl: The Coffee Flavoring Agent of Death

There could be a potentially dangerous additive in your flavored coffee. It opens up a pandora’s box of questions about the FDA, their motives, and who controls them. The chemical in question doesn’t even need to be listed on the ingredients list, as it falls under the baffling catch-all of “Natural Flavorings”. And it’s found in products up and down your grocery aisle.

It’s called diacetyl, a byproduct of fermentation, found naturally in low concentrations in beer, wine, coffee, and milk products. A synthetic diacetyl is used as a flavor enhancer in a wide assortment of products, like snack foods, pet foods, candies, baked goods, flavored coffees, and mosquito repellent. It gives food stuffs a “buttery” flavor, and has been wholeheartedly approved for use by the FDA and food safety monitoring agencies in the EU.

Diacetyl first gained international attention when factory workers in a popcorn processing facility were diagnosed with a rare type of lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans. The diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans has been dubbed “popcorn workers’ lung” by the 24-hour news media. Now the Southeast Texas Record reports that several workers at an East Texas coffee production plant have filed suit against their employers, claiming that they are suffering from a rare, horrendous lung disease as a result of exposure to the diacetyl used to flavor coffees at their facility.

Even though diacetyl is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a safe flavor ingredient, evidence suggests that inhaling diacetyl fumes is dangerous. There are currently no warnings from federal regulators about diacetyl.

Public health concerns are nothing new for diacetyl. For more, we turn to Wikipedia:

On July 26, 2006, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers petitioned the U.S. OSHA to promulgate an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the deleterious health effects of inhaling diacetyl vapors. The petition was followed by a letter of support signed by more than 30 prominent scientists.

A 2010 OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin and companion Worker Alert recommend employers use safety measures to avoid exposing employees to the potentially deadly effects of butter flavorings and other flavoring substances containing diacetyl or its substitutes.

In this current East Texas lawsuit, several companies are accused of failing to comply with 2010 OSHA recommendations, including Flavor & Fragrance Specialties Inc., Firmenich Inc., Carmi Flavor and Fragrance Co. Inc. and Mission Flavors & Fragrances Inc. The employees themselves worked at a coffee production plant called East Lands Coffee, in the city of Tyler, Texas. These workers are suing for “physical pain, mental anguish, loss of earnings or earning capacity, physical impairment, medical expenses, interest and court costs”, according to the Southeast Texas Record.

Are you now completely terrified of diacetyl? Sound off in the comments below!


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  2. Peter G

    25 May

    Grumpy and O.R. miss a crucial point of the article: they both suggest “just don’t eat it!!”

    Guys, how do you suggest a consumer avoids diacetyl, when the ingredient is often not listed (as the article points out)? Also, how would you suggest that people know to avoid diacetyl in the first place? Sheesh.

    OSHA, the FDA, and news reporters like Sprudge do us a service when they detect a problem, make the public aware, and regulate it properly. Food workers deserve to be protected from toxic exposure. Consumers deserve reasonable protection from noxious chemicals. There’s no belief systems being imposed here- there is clear evidence linking great diacetyl exposure to lung disease.

    We do need to be very careful about how we regulate diacetyl, however. Diacetyl occurs naturally- as Sprudge points out- in many foods including roasted coffee. A regulation that mandates 0% diacetyl exposure in food manufacture could affect coffee business negatively. It’s clear that zero regulation isn’t a good option though; what does appropriate regulation look like? By the way, we have similar issues out there with acrylamide and carbon monoxide.

    It’s an interesting topic, and Sprudge does a service when they put it on our radar. Thanks, Sprudge!


  3. nameTim

    25 May

    I think the concept you’re missing is “picking your battles”. Do O.R. and GrumpyBarista pine for the good ol’ days of dioxin and lead paint, too? Christ on a crutch, people are so reactionary these days.
    If we find out something is bad for life, we should make an honest effort to remove it from the diets of most life forms. You two can corner the market on buttery death.

  4. grumpybarista

    24 May

    Let me paraphrase the first line of the article:

    “There could be a potentially dangerous additive in your flavored coffee. It’s called COFFEE.”

    Frankly, you can say the same thing about a half a million things that we are exposed to or ingest in some form or another every day. This is just another article that takes a small bit of information and runs with it, for the purposes of selling adspace.

    If you’re really concerned, then just don’t eat it.

  5. O.R.

    23 May

    Yall want to ban diacetyl? Say syonara to that rich butter aroma, bub. You don’t want diacetyl cuz your feared for your health? Simple. Don’t eat it. Don’t impose your belief systems on the rest of us.

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