Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.
Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.
Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.
Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.
You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.
Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.