Understanding Diacetyl: What It Is, and Where It Exists

Among the flood of inquiries regarding chemicals in vape juice, one continues to surface: What is Diacetyl?
Diacetyl is a chemical compound that exists in many of the foods and food products that we consume on a daily basis. In its liquid form, Diacetyl has a yellow/green color, and a viscous quality, similar to that of melted butter. It is the active chemical in certain alcoholic beverages (ie. Chardonnay's, some beers, and some liquors) that gives certain drinks their "slippery" texture (1). It is also the active chemical in foods that have a "buttery" texture and flavor (2).
Diacetyl is a natural byproduct of fermentation (4), which raises some alarms in the "gross" department. However, this fermentation process is essential to the makeup of certain dairy products that you can find right in your fridge at home! Lactic acid cultures (AKA the precursor to Lactose) are introduced into certain dairy products in which the bacteria in the culture is given room to grow. That action is what is referred to as fermentation. As fermentation occurs, the original dairy products are transformed into delicious items like sour cream, cultured butter, buttermilk, and some yogurts! These products owe their acidity and "tartness" to the lactic acid cultures, and they owe their buttery smell and taste to Diacetyl! (2)
Some of the manufactured buttery foods, like certain popcorn brands and emulations of butter, include Diacetyl in their recipe in order to create that buttery texture and flavor. Without it, such products wouldn't taste like butter. In 2007, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) volunteered a motion for manufacturers that introduce larger quantities of Diacetyl into their recipes to bring those numbers down to a non-existent or nearly non-existent level (2). They did so under the premise that such manufactured foods that do not use real butter in their recipes must contain much higher levels of the chemical in order to emulate the natural very buttery flavor.
Obviously Diacetyl, as a naturally occurring chemical, is not something that people need to be afraid of consuming via eating certain foods. It is not always safe though, and some research suggests that it could possibly be detrimental to lung function if it is inhaled in large quantities for a long period of time (2).
It has not yet been made fully clear, or been proven, that such chemicals are the direct cause of such conditions like 'Popcorn Lung', however the inhalation of Diacetyl was the basis for a lawsuit filed and won by a man who had developed the condition. This was an extremely rare case, and the man involved was in a very particular situation. The man had been a regular microwave popcorn eater, two bags a day, for around a decade. The company that he filed his lawsuit against was the manufacturer for the popcorn he ate regularly, and he won the case under the premise that the Diacetyl-containing popcorn was the cause for his condition (3).
The important thing to remember about a situation like this is that there are a lot of different stories and claims floating around, and it is up to each individual to do their own research on the subject. Diacetyl is a known chemical, with chemical effects, just like every chemical in the world. The difference between Diacetyl and its effects and something else is that no one can be 100% sure what the effects of Diacetyl are until extensive testing and research have taken place. We cannot make definitive claims about what it can do to our bodies, but that also does not mean that anyone can be 100% sure that they are safe from any negative effects. Without more information and research, this industry will continue to be caught in a log jam between the unknown and the known. It is Vaping's responsibility as an industry to collaborate and do what needs to be done to answer the questions it has been asked based on the recent claims. Diacetyl is the focus today, so as an industry Vaping must delve deep into research and testing to make sure that those questions can be answered honestly and with certainty.
What we do know about Diacetyl is that it is an ingredient used in some manufactured foods (2), that it stems from a natural chemical reaction following a process called fermentation (4), and that it was incorporated in the base claim used in a lawsuit where a man had the condition 'Popcorn Lung' (3). We do not know everything there is to know about the effects of Diacetyl on the body, but as an industry, it is Vaping's job to learn those things.
VistaVapors has been proactive in dealing with Diacetyl, Pentanedione, Acetyl Propionyl, and Acetoin. We feel this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed in the vaping industry. In 2013, we began contacting our suppliers and requesting that they discontinue using any ingredients that we, or they, feel might be harmful. As a result, there are several additional ingredients that we have begun to limit in the process we use for manufacturing. Due to this, several flavors were removed from our site in 2013.
Currently, to the best of ourknowledge, these ingredients are not in our product. However, we feel that relying on our flavor manufacturers processes doesn’t provide enough assurance. This is a new issue for the flavor manufacturing industry and it has become evident that independent testing is a viable safety precaution.
Recently, we contacted an independent lab to begin extensive testing on our flavoring. As test results come back we will evaluate the data and react accordingly. Our plan is to have every flavor tested. If anything comes back as positive, we will either remove or reconfigure the flavor accordingly.
Our goal is to be able to state that our ingredients supply chain is clean of all potentially problematic ingredients and to provide independent lab tests to verify it. If you are especially concerned about these ingredients from any company, there seem to be certain types of flavor which typically are “repeat offenders.” They fall into the flavor compounds used to make buttery/creamy flavors such as popcorn.
It is especially important to us that our e-juice does not contain harmful ingredients as not only do we provide e-juice to our customers, but also ourselves, our friends, and family whom all vape our e-juice.
-VistaVapors, Inc.
1. Xu, Ping, Hong Chen, Yi Du, Wanqui Chen, and Zijun Xiao. "Diacetyl (ECMDB21446) (M2MDB001841)." (2005): n. pag. ECMBD. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://ecmdb.ca/compounds/ECMDB21446>.
2. Hallagan, John. "Comments of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States on New Information on Butter Flavored Microwave Popcorn." (2007): n. pag. FEMA. Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, 4 Sept. 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://www.femaflavor.org/sites/default/files/statements-releases/FEMA_Statement_9407.pdf>.
3. Castellano, Anthony. "'Popcorn Lung' Lawsuit Nets $7.2M Award." ABC News. ABC News Network, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/09/popcorn-lung-lawsuit-nets-7-2m-award/>
4. Christensen, M. D., and C. S. Pederson. "Factors Affecting Diacetyl Production by Lactic Acid Bacteria'" Factors Affecting Diacetyl Production by Lactic Acid Bacteria' (1958): 1. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1057422/pdf/applmicro00319-0035.pdf>.


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