Danish Supermarket Refused to Sell Popcorn Containing Fluorinated Chemicals

CC BY 2.0. FrankieLeon

Even though it took 6 months to find an alternative, Coop refused to stock microwave popcorn because of the health risks to customers.

When Danish supermarket Coop discovered that its microwave popcorn contained fluorinated chemicals in the paper bag lining, it decided to pull the popcorn off shelves in 1,200 stores throughout the country. The chemicals were used by manufacturers to prevent the paper from degrading upon contact with hot butter, and they were chosen over natural substances like wax because of their ability to withstand microwave heat.

For six months it was impossible to buy microwave popcorn at Coop. Then, in 2015, a solution was found. A Spanish company called Liven unveiled a paper bag that was free from fluorinated chemicals. Environmental Health News reported at the time:

“The supplier came up with stronger paper for the bag, relied on the natural cellulose, which, after being boiled for a longer time, became impermeable to the fat, so the bag didn’t need to be coated with the fluorinated chemicals.”

Demand was so high that Coop struggled to keep popcorn on its shelves. Danish customers were delighted to be able to buy microwave popcorn once again, knowing it was safe to eat.

Although this story is relatively old news, I think it’s a marvelous example of how a large company (with 40 percent of Denmark's market share) has made a conscious decision to stay ahead of food regulators in order to protect its customers. Coop has named a “dirty dozen” list of chemicals that it plans to eliminate completely from its stores by the end of 2017, despite the fact that these chemicals are legal in Denmark.

Coop has demonstrated the gap that exists between science and food safety regulation – something of which many people are unaware. Louise Raith Sørensen, a corporate social responsibility consultant for Coop, explains further:

“Many people think everything that’s still legal for use means it’s safe. We do not agree. From when we see scientists are concerned, the legislation might take 5 to 10 years. So some of what was considered safe ten years ago is now banned.”

It’s a smart business strategy, trying to stay ahead of the trends; and based on current consumer behavior, it’s a fairly safe bet that concern about food safety is only going to become more important as the years go by. Customers like hearing about companies that are being proactive.

A Coop representative said:

“Even if we lost money on the popcorn, the positive publicity was worth it. Maybe we’ll have more customers and more loyalty, when they’re reading something about harmful chemicals and they have faith that we’re taking care that.”

Unfortunately, microwave popcorn in the United States continues to be sold in bags with fluorinated chemicals. Maybe you should start popping your own in a pot.