As a warning of safety procedures at flavour firms, a former popcorn-plant worker in the US has been awarded $15 million (€12m) after a jury found exposure to butter-flavouring fumes led to his severe respiratory problems.
The verdict brings to nearly $53 million the total amount awarded in the last two years against the makers of the popcorn flavouring, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and a subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen, reports the Kansas City Star.
Four other plaintiffs reached confidential settlements with the defendants last year.
The second largest flavour player in the world, in 2004 IFF faced potentially massive fines following a string of charges from 30 plaintiffs claiming they had contracted the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans, the widespread obstruction of the small airways, from mixing flavouring oils.
After the first ruling in early 2004, jurors decided IFF and its subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen, had to pay $20 million in damages.
The plaintiffs claim the manufacturers knew about the dangers of the butter flavouring used in the popcorn factory but failed to give a warning. The defendants said they were unaware of the risk and suggested there was not enough evidence to prove their product had caused the disease.
Butter flavouring oils in the US market - tipped to hit $4.4 billion (€3.4bn) by 2007 - are used in biscuit and confectionery manufacturing as well as margarines and soft spreads.
In January this year, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a body that falls under the US Department of Health and Human Services, recommended that employers take measures to limit employees 'occupational respiratory exposures to food flavourings and flavouring ingredients in workplaces where flavourings are made or used'.
The alert stemmed from a series of NIOSH health hazard evaluations that began in 2000 when NIOSH learned of the occurrence of bronchiolitis obliterans in workers at a microwave popcorn packaging plant.
"Results of the health hazard evaluations to date suggest that adverse effects may result from occupational inhalation exposures to high, airborne concentrations of some flavourings or their ingredients in the form of vapours, dusts, or sprays, " NIOSH said in a statement.
In Europe, the European flavour and fragrance association informed FoodNavigator.com that fragrances and flavours have to fulfill the rules of the Dangerous Products Directive and the Dangerous Substance Directive (67/548/EEC). The primary aim of the latter is to identify and control individual dangerous chemicals and raw materials.