Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Due caution is necessary before hogging Popcorn made in a microwave oven

It can cause what is known as ‘popcorn lungs’, a rare and life-threatening bronchiolitis, which is also irreversible


Traditionally, Indians make their roti with corn flour, children relish these boiled, while older children and adults enjoy roasted corns with a variety of masalas, such as lemon, hot chilly powder, salt and so on. From these traditional bites, we have progressed to ready-made popcorn pouches that can be "roasted" in a microwave.


Recent reports indicate that a microwave may not be a healthy way to prepare popcorn. It appears the problem starts with microwaving the popcorn in its specially made pouches. The heating process vapourises the diacetyl in the bag which can cause Alzheimer's disease and damage the lungs! It can cause what is now popularly known as "popcorn lungs", also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a rare and irreversible life-threatening disease.


Bronchiolitis Obliterans is caused by the inhalation of diacetyl fumes which causes scarring in lungs. Sufferers of popcorn lungs have difficulty in exhaling and this can at times become fatal. It appears that when it is severe, only a lung transplant can save the patients' life and some former popcorn factory workers reported to have died while waiting for transplants.


Because of the public uproar in 2007, major popcorn makers announced their plans to drop diacetyl in a phased manner. These were Weaver Popcorn Company, ConAgra Foods Inc, American Popcorn Company and General Mills Inc.


According to the Seattle Post Intelligence, as many as 3 billion bags of microwave popcorn are sold every year. Many leading companies, including Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret and Joly Time have removed diacetyl from their microwave formulas. We should remember that regular popcorn machines are not the same as microwaves.


It may be noted that, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there is concern about another chemical called "perfluorooctanoic acid" or PFOA which is used to line microwave bags to make them fire resistant. This same synthetic chemical is found in Teflon pots and pans, PFOA is dangerous because it can persist in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time, and this has been labelled as a "likely carcinogen" by the US EPA.


It is important that consumers must read the instructions on the popcorn bags and only those which are free from these chemicals can be used without fear. Or else, the traditional option of "makki-ki-roti" and "sarson-ka-saag" is always available.


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)




2 years ago

Please do not use a microwave oven for anything.

Also avoid putting food/water in plastic bags/ containers as plastic leaches into the food, especially in a hot climate/ or in a microwave. We all have stainless steel boxes or pans for heating and those are best.

Also never ask for water in plastic bottles as this is among the very worst horrors for our environment. We all did without it happily so what is the problem?

Narendra Doshi

2 years ago

Dear Ramdasji,
The non pouch popcorn is more safer as you put it but I tink too much popcorn is also bad for overall health.

Fortnightly Market View : A Hiccup?

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Ecommerce offers convenience but what about warranties for consumer?

Flipkart, Uber and others have brought us great benefits through technology. Laws need to catch up about accountability too


The rape of a young woman in Delhi by an Uber cab driver, and the government’s ban on all web-based car hire or ‘ride sharing’ companies, evoked sharp and diverse reactions that extend far beyond the safety issue. 


Yes, safety is a concern for all women; Uber’s failure to implement its claim of ‘rigorous background checks’ in India was seen as a serious breach of trust by women. Uber’s claims and its GPS-tracking with driver details had led women to believe that the ride was completely safe. 
At the same time, such was the convenience, comfort, pricing and ease of use provided by web-based cab companies that the government’s knee-jerk attempt to ban them led to a massive consumer backlash. Upwardly mobile young India, fed up of pathetic public transport, lack of segmentation and the growing struggle with parking or availability of drivers, took to social media to voice angry protests. Their message to the government was: regulate by all means, but don’t mess around with private initiatives to fill the massive gap in comfortable public transport that technology has enabled.
To me, the message from the Uber episode is that even the most innovative company in the world needs regulation and supervision; but don’t force it to deal with mindless red-tape, impossible conditions, permits and corruption. Uber was undoubtedly lax about several aspects of its Indian operations, not just driver verification. For instance, all emails for support were ignored for weeks; it sent a flurry of responses after the government crackdown. Uber also turned serious about implementing workable e-wallet only after the regrettable rape-episode.
What happened with Uber holds for every other technology-enabled consumer service. But such is the state of consumer activism in India that, without a catastrophic event that threatens business survival, most companies are focused on sales and not on consumer interest. Here are a few examples.
Flipkart and Snapdeal made headlines in November, with their record-shattering online sales, when some products were sold below the distributor price offered by manufacturers. Flipkart and Snapdeal, flush with private-equity funding, indulged in predatory pricing that triggered protests by brick-and-mortar retailers. Manufacturers were forced to take cognisance of their complaints and some companies responded by refusing to offer a warranty on products bought online. For instance, Videocon’s website clearly states it will not offer a warranty on products purchased on Snapdeal. However, the Snapdeal website displays a full, 1+2-year product warranty with no disclaimers about Videocon’s stand. 
Where does this leave the consumer? Is Snapdeal’s website being honest? Can Videocon withhold the warranty? The issue is complex. Consumer activist and advocate, Jehangir Gai, is clear that a warranty is provided by the manufacturer and not the seller. The warranty goes with the product and, technically, Videocon will not be able to deny it. However, what if it does?
Where does that leave the Snapdeal consumer who expected an automatic, hassle-free warranty? Will she be forced to fight it out with Videocon? Why? After all, she is a Snapdeal customer who bought the product believing the specific claim on Snapdeal’s website. If there has to be a battle to clarify the law, it should be between Videocon and Snapdeal. What if Snapdeal claims that it is only a marketplace aggregating sellers which bills customers directly and supplies products? Will the consumer have to deal with a seller she knows nothing about? 
Online marketplaces, like Snapdeal, Flipkart or Amazon, must be made responsible for claims made on their website. Any issue with sellers or manufacturers have to be handled by them and cannot be dumped on the customer. The ministry of consumer affairs, which has recently announced that its writ extends to e-commerce transactions, must take cognisance of this issue and clarify the situation. But we know from experience that government regulators do not stir until there is a flashpoint, like in the Uber case or litigation making them respondents. The first Snapdeal customer to invoke the warranty and put up a fight will probably be the guinea pig for this issue.  
Buying online is a terrific experience when things go well but is a nightmare when the product is not delivered, is defective or different from what was ordered. Lack of information on the authenticity of several e-commerce sites with big publicity budgets is also a growing problem.
Now, consider another situation. Automation of the passport issuance process has been a boon to ordinary people. But did you know that your personal information provided to procure this important document, issued by the government of India, is being shared with private insurance companies? We were shocked to discover that the online application form at passportindia.gov.in has a pre-ticked check-box for ‘additional services’ seeking consent to share your personal data (name, contact details, gender, application type and educational qualification) with Cholamandalam’s Shubh Yatra Travel Insurance. 
Most people are likely to check the box not knowing its privacy implications. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which is handling the privatisation process, insists that the consent is explicitly sought. Our question is: Why should a high security document, like a passport, extract additional revenue by collating and selling data to private companies? Who else is allowed access to this data? And who gets the revenue—the government or TCS? 
It is a matter of concern that we, the people, who pay a passport fee as well as for SMS alerts to track its status, have no information about the data sale deal. It also raises questions about the security of biometric data collected by the passport office, registrars at stamp offices and the Aadhaar data collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). How secure is this data? Can it be sold by sending us a bland email with an ‘opt-out’ option that few will understand? These are questions that any mature system needs to address transparently. 
I would submit that Indian consumers need to be aware of and empowered on issues that are far more basic, like the right to products of exact weights and measures. A Moneylife Foundation seminar, addressed by Sanjay Pandey, controller, legal metrology department in Maharashtra, provided some eye-opening information on how we have purchased property for decades without knowing that it cannot be sold in square feet but only in square metres. Realty company advertisements also tend to stretch, or shrink, distances at will to make their project location more attractive; the consumer’s only recourse is to do her own due diligence. 
On 12th December, the media reported that the Delhi High Court had ordered Sistema Shyam Teleservices (under the brand name MTS) to bring its equipment to court, to test its advertisement claim of Internet speeds of up to 9.8Mbps. The company had challenged an order by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) which upheld a complaint that MTS has made misleading claims. Justice Vibhu Bakhru seemed certain that MTS’s claimed speed would only work under test conditions. The company did not put the issue to test and the case was disposed off in ASCI’s favour.  
But the fact is that on issues like Internet speeds, which are not even incorporated in the Legal Metrology Act, almost every company offering Internet services gets away with tall claims as is evident from any online discussion forum on these services. 
It is yet another example of how we, as customers, are so grateful for the life-changing benefits of ever-evolving and improving technology that we hesitate to complain about service standards.
False and exaggerated claims, that would have caused outrage in traditional businesses, don’t seem to be an issue in the tech world. Isn’t it time that we begin to treat technology as a normal part of our lives and subject its costs, claims and accuracy to the same standards that we apply to other products and services?



V Rajendran

2 years ago

Dear Ms Sucheta, Wonderful write-up, covering a wide range of legal issues related to technology. In fact, the legal ramifications of online purchases (like flipkart) should have been elaborated for the benefit of netizens. I have come across many cases of victimisations (of people indulging in legal battles and claims) resulting from failed or dissatisfied online purchases. India needs much more techno-legal clarity and solutions on such issues. V Rajendran


2 years ago

A very good article raising the issues faced in e-commerce . Regulation should certainly evolve quickly to save lakhs of un-suspecting buyers.


2 years ago

always insist on cash on delivery when buying anything online. When the delivery person comes, open the package in front of him and after verifying everything is ok then pay the money else return it back.


2 years ago

There is lack of consumer awareness of what to do when things go wrong. Talking specifically about online shopping, the majority does not know what happens next if the seller fails to honor its commitment. They blatantly abuse the consumer's interests.

For ex, I bought a laptop in Oct. Found that the product was used and has warranty for 9 months against the said 12. Customer care said they would recall the product and issue me my money back (harassment apart in the whole process). After a month (TrustPay policy - Snapdeal promises resolution in a month), they decline to help. And had to literally threaten them, and it was the fear of consumer court that made them budge and recall the product. And then had to wait for another month to get my money back. They violated their own policy and were unapologetic. I wanted to take them to court but it was the lack of knowledge and the fear of courts that stopped me.

When I took the issue via twitter/FB, I found that I was not the only one. There were 100s like me (in a weeks time). Is court/law the only forum that can help consumers like me sort their issues out? In cases such as these, the consumers solely have to rely on the sellers who misuse the trust.


Sreekanth Yelicherla

In Reply to Ankit 2 years ago

Never mind. It happened to me with Snapdeal where they failed to deliver a product worth Rs. 10,000 even after 1 month and did not even replied to my 9 of my emails. They have to refund within 7 days after promised delivery date as per Trustpay but they extended the delivery date without even my information, only after I threatened that I forward all the emails to the media then the refund was issued after 8 days! Mobikwik is another site which seem to me like another Timtara! Purchasing a product/service online is risky in India due to laws. The websites doesn't fear for the law. Look how Uber behaved after the incident.


2 years ago

Only company from my experience was Khaitan for their fan for 5 years. I had a problem with a ceiling fan. i visited their Delhi office without any questions they gave a new fan. This was possible because mine might have been one in 1 million fans where some one has received a bad piece. Aother company was Elite who honoured for their mixie. So if any company which put 101 conditions to honour warranty are all dubious. In this automobile companies are notorious for putting advertisements recalling manufacturing defects but know very well actually there was no such defect but by putting upsuch an advt they try to create a PR exercise. When a real problem is brought to notice they resort to all steps to honour a defective part


Shri Nivasan

In Reply to TIHARwale 2 years ago

My experience with Flipkart is that they honour their commitments seriously. Yes, sometimes you have to write e-mail to the CEO, but they generally are efficient.

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