Some love it, some hate it: that overwhelming buttery, salty smell that fills the house every time you throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave. However, larger concerns have led Danish retailer Coop Denmark to pull microwave popcorn from the shelves of their 1,200 stores. Highly fluorinated chemicals like those used in food packaging have been linked to immune system problems, increased risk of miscarriage in women, and several types of cancer.
Highly fluorinated chemicals are commonly used in microwave popcorn bags and other food packaging products because they help make surfaces grease resistant. They also provide water resistance and other useful properties and are used in waterproof jackets, stain-resistant carpets, nonstick cookware and more. However, many fluorinated compounds are also bioaccumulative, meaning they build up in the body over time, and persistent, meaning they remain in the environment for as long as millions of years.
Coop Denmark’s move to stop selling microwave popcorn is part of a larger, ongoing effort to phase fluorinated chemicals out of all their products. Dr. Philippe Grandjean, a professor of environmental medicine at the nearby University of Southern Denmark who has studied highly fluorinated chemicals extensively, calls this voluntary industry initiative “excellent.”
This industry move away from highly fluorinated chemicals comes close on the heels of the release of the Madrid Statement, signed by over 230 scientists from 40 countries expressing concern about the use of these chemicals.
The Madrid Statement calls for better regulation, greater transparency, better testing, and development of safe nonfluorinated alternatives. It also challenges retailers and consumers to question the necessity of selling and using products containing these potentially harmful chemicals. Is the convenience of a stain-resistant carpet, a nonstick pan, or microwave popcorn really worth the health risk?
For Coop Denmark and a growing number of consumers, the answer is a resounding “No.”
Malene Teller Blume, Coop Denmark’s Department Manager of Chemistry and Nonfood, said that Coop Denmark will not resume selling microwave popcorn until safer food packaging alternatives are available.
We have worked hard with our suppliers to find alternatives to fluorinated substances in the packaging of microwave popcorn, but so far, it has been unfortunately in vain.
It remains to be seen whether or not US manufacturers and retailers will follow Coop Denmark’s lead and take the initiative to make their products safer for consumers. For the sake of a healthier future and worry-free microwave popcorn, we hope so.