Popcorn Lung?

Twice this past week, I arrived at work to the noxious odor of burning popcorn wafting throughout the infusion center. What is it with nurses and microwave popcorn? We save lives daily. We keep critically injured patients from circling the drain into certain doom. We safely medicate patients and do complex procedures, but as a group we are notorious for our inability to pop popcorn in microwaves without burning it. I can’t remember ever smelling burning popcorn in a movie theater. Statistically speaking, you’d think burnt popcorn occurs more often in a movie theater than a hospital, based on the sheer volumes of popcorn popped at movie theaters. That isn’t the case. I wonder why.

You think I exaggerate? Using the search words popcorn microwave hospital fires today resulted in 93,200 results in 0.22 seconds on Google. My favorite is this YouTube Video about a pediatric ER nurse named Stephanie:

Stephanie, you are not alone among your nursing peers. I found an unconfirmed reference online that said Seattle, Washington has made it illegal to pop microwave popcorn in its hospitals because of the fire hazard.

When I signed up for nursing, I expected exposure to many unpleasant odors, including “code browns” (poopy messes), emesis (vomit), and blood. I can handle all of them, but burnt popcorn makes me gag.  Also, fumes of microwave popcorn containing diacetyl, burnt or otherwise, may cause Popcorn Lung, according to this article (dated September 2007). I wonder if this is covered by workman’s comp?

I love microwave popcorn, and it makes a quick, tasty snack that is easy to share with coworkers. Let’s preserve this simple pleasure. If we can save lives, surely we can learn to pop popcorn without burning it.


  1. The running joke is when there’s a Code Red on 5 North (Med/Tele) it’s because they’ve burnt the popcorn again.

    Sometimes it’s even true.


  2. The first hospital I worked at banned microwave popcorn because of the number of times the fire department had to come to turn off the alarm. It was getting too expensive to pay for the false calls.


  3. Our hospital actually confiscated our toasters and microwaves because it was getting so expensive. They eventually gave us the microwave back, but we are not supposed to leave them unattended while heating food.


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