Diacetyl is a chemical additive found in butter-flavorings for products like PAM cooking spray, popcorn topping and the stuff that fry cooks probably pour on the grill when you order eggs at your local diner.
A story in today's Seattle P-I says diacetyl vapor could pose a significant risk to professional cooks who use and are exposed to large amounts of these butter substitutes. Diacetyl vapor, when inhaled, has been linked to a rare, sometimes fatal respiratory disease called bronchiolitis obliterans.
Then the story asks, "Where are the sick cooks?"
Then it says:
Never miss a local story.
One problem in determining the extent of the problem, according to union health officers, is that kitchen workers often are underinsured or uninsured and frequently conceal health problems because they don't want to anger their employers. The pressures on the line cook or the line chef are significant and the turnover rate is high, making occupational disease hard to identify.
Dr. Allen Parmet, a Kansas City occupational medicine physician who first identified the disease among popcorn plant workers, calls it "the healthy worker effect."
"People work until they're too sick to continue work, and they come in with their cough, because they can't breathe, and they think it's because they were smoking while they were cooking," Parmet said. "They have no reason to suspect they're being made sick because of the products they're using."
Now I ask: Fry cooks, line cooks, food-service distributors, what's your experience with diacetyl?
Restaurant owners: Please tell me whether you buy this stuff. Why do you buy it? Why do you expose your employees to it?
Diners: Gimme an "Ewwwwwwwwww" ...