You can find this mild preservative in many products such as food, wine and even herbal supplements. Its main purpose is to inhibit the presence of mold, yeast, and microbes, thus giving products a longer shelf life.
Potassium Sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid, a natural organic compound isolated from the oil of the unripened rowan berry (sorbapple or mountain ash berry). The chemical structure of sorbic acid was determined in the late 19th century and chemically synthesized in 1900. Sorbic acid and its salts were not used commercially until the 1940’s when their ability to interfere with ATP metabolism in microbes, while posing no health risk when eaten by mammals, was discovered. Since the 1950’s, sorbic acid has been repeatedly tested for safety and efficacy, and today is one of the most thoroughly tested food additives in US history. Few substances have had such extensive, rigorous, and long-term testing. It is non-toxic even when taken in large quantities, and breaks down in the body into water and carbon dioxide in the Krebs Cycle. It is metabolizedjust like any other polyunsaturated fat. Generally used in very small amounts, it is safe, non-toxic and non-sensitizing.
Are you a fan of buttered popcorn? Well workers in popcorn plants most likely are not. As recently as 1992, a rare disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung”, is being seen in many employees of popcorn plants. Bronchiolitis obliterans is a destruction of the lung’s airways. It does not respond to normal asthma medications and many of these workers are ending up on a lung transplant waiting list.
Although it has not been exactly determined what in the flavoring is causing harm, diacetyl is a chemical commonly used in the production of buttered popcorn. It has been linked to respiratory problems and lung diseases. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “A cause-effect relationship between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans has not been established, as food-processing workers with this lung disease were also exposed to other volatile food-flavoring agents.”
However, they have listed the following potential symptoms of exposure to the chemical as:
• Eye, mucous membrane, respiratory system, and skin irritation
• Persistent cough
• Phlegm production
• Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
• Unusual fatigue
• Episodes of mild fever or generalized aches
• Severe skin rashes
As of September 4, 2007, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers have recommended a reduction in the use of diacetyl and a few major popcorn companies are beginning to turn to an alternative ingredient. ConAgra (Orville Redenbacher and Act II popcorn), the Weaver Popcorn company (TrailsEnd popcorn), General Mills Inc. (Pop-Secret) and the American Pop Corn Co. (Jolly Time popcorn) are responding to this recommendation. The food companies have not pinpointed exactly when the new popcorn will be available at all stores because the timetable depends on how much popcorn a store sells and how much of the product stores keep in their own warehouses. In addition to this recommendation, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to ban the use of diacetyl by 2010.
Popcorn is not the only product that contains diacetyl. It can be found in butter, margarine, beer, and wine. However, health problems have only been seen in workers of popcorn plants. The Washington, D.C.-based Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association has said consumers shouldn’t worry about eating microwave popcorn as long as they follow directions, which typically include a warning to open bags of popcorn away from the face. As of this printing, there has only been one reported case of “popcorn lung” from a consumer who ate multiple bags of popcorn every day for years.
4. Center For Science In The Public Interest in Washington, D.C. www.cspinet.org/