Popcorn is a pretty healthy snack and when cooked correctly it provides a load of vitamins and minerals, is low fat(excluding butter) and is really high in fibre.
From a health perspective one thing to be aware of is what’s in the packaging used in pre-packaged microwave popcorn bags.
When thinking about processed food, I tend to think about the food that’s inside the package and not the packaging itself. I’m pretty conscious of BPA used in plastic containers but not really done much research into some of the other types of packaging.
In the case of some pre-packaged microwave popcorn, the bags are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – part of the polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS family). This chemical is used to stop fat from soaking through the paper bag, it’s also a fire retardant so may help to stop the bag from catching fire. If you are buying pre-packaged microwave popcorn have a look at the packing – does it say it does not use PFOA in it’s packaging?
PFAS chemicals have used across many industries including commercial food packaging(like microwave popcorn and pizza boxes), non-stick pans, stain-resistant products and fire-fighting foam. In Australia (and worldwide), particularly around airforce bases, the used of PFAS substances has created a bit of problem. PFAS was one of active ingredients used within firefighting foam used to extinguish liquid fuel fires (both in airbase exercises and accidents).
While steps have been taken to phase out the use of PFAS, these chemicals remain in the environment and can persist in humans and animals and leach into ground-water from landfills.
What are the effects of PFAS chemicals?
The major concern is that these chemicals accumulate in the environment, spreading through soil into groundwater and have been shown to be toxic to some fish and animals. Health authorities here in Australia state while there is no consistent evidence that they are toxic to humans these chemicals are highly persistent and accumulate in humans, animals and fish.
Those people living on/near contaminated areas are advised not to use any animal product from animals living on these lands.
PFAS chemicals may play a role in:
- Endocrine disruption.
- Increase the risk of some cancers like testicular and kidney cancers.
- Increase cholesterol.
- Inflammatory bowel and thyroid disease.
Can I still enjoy my popcorn?
Yes, of course – popcorn is really good for you. Make your own – have a look at the recipe provided in reference number 3. You can also pop the kernels in a lidded saucepan on stove top. Have a look this link for a great popcorn recipe – https://thepioneerwoman.com/food-and-friends/how-to-make-stovetop-popcorn/
Does anyone have any other cooking suggestions for popcorn?
Or other information to share about food packing and potential adverse health concerns?
- Working safely with PFAS containing aqueous film-forming firefighting foams – Technical guide, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/resource-library/public-administration-and-safety/working-safely-with-pfas-containing-aqueous-film-forming-firefighting-foams-technical-guide
- Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-pfas.htm#FRSC
- Toxic Microwave Popcorn, https://www.ceh.org/wp-content/uploads/Popcorn-Infographic-1.pdf
- Short-chain Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2015/05/978-87-93352-15-5.pdf
- PFAS Investigation & Management Program, http://www.defence.gov.au/Environment/PFAS/pfas.asp
- What ‘chemicals of concern’ are in your food packaging?, https://www.packagingdigest.com/food-packaging/what-chemicals-of-concern-are-in-your-food-packaging-2018-06-08