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 calledΒ 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.

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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!