I would say microwave popcorn needs to come with a warning label on it, but it already does.  The problem is, at a school where kids have difficulty reading, navigating the complex instruction on a single-serve bag of popcorn is nearly impossible. 

My Google-fu has not returned a satisfying direct quote from a popcorn bag, but I shall paraphrase, from the brand that I usually buy.  Because microwaves vary, your popcorn may take more or less than 3 minutes.  Do not push the popcorn button on your microwave. (because it’s the smaller size bag, see?) To pop, set the microwave to 3 minutes.  Do not abandon your popcorn!!  Listen for the popping to slow to between 1-2 seconds per pop.  Take it out of the microwave at this time. 

Then, in addition to all the popping instructions, there are multitudes of other words to jumble in the brain.  Careful: hot steam.  Point away from face.  This end up.  This end down.  Pull opposite corners diagonally to open.  It must all meld together, and they ignore it all. 

These kids all probably have super-charged microwaves at home, and they’re used to pushing the 1-minute button and leaving it at that.  At school, however, we only have the underpowered “microfridge” of dorm-room fame.  Here’s what happened a few months ago.  A kid put in his popcorn, pushed 1-minute, and didn’t hear enough popping, or it wasn’t done.  So he pushed “popcorn” and let it go for probably another 3 minutes.  As I turned toward the microwave, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the microwave, a veritable mushroom cloud of burnt popcorn smell.  It dissipated into the ceiling of the gym, and kept rising, all the way up the stairwell to the 3rd floor, clinging to the nostrils of all who disturbed its progress. 

Today, another kid just put her popcorn in for too long and let it go.  She approached me, disappointed, as the tell-tale bag wavered sadly in her hand.  Then she prized off the slitted lid of the recycling bin and tried to dispose of it there.  “No,” I said, “You can’t recycle burnt popcorn.”  So she found a real trash can in the office.  It was then summarily removed to the bathroom, yet somehow the odious odor has again breached the third floor hallways. 

I like Orville Redenbacher’s idiot instructions on their “Smart Pop” bags, in that they are pictures.  Similar to the “kid-friendly” pictures on the side of the Kraft Mac & Cheese box,Orville has an image of the max time (3:00), then a graphic of a man intently listening for the magical 2-second pause, and finally a drawing of someone very safely opening the bag by pulling diagonally on the corners.  I assume he is pointing the steaming bag away from his face, of course.  

With all these pictures and direction and warnings, the bags still get burnt to a crisp.  What else could we do?  Put a button on the box that speaks the directions?  Include another button on the microwave for “single-serve” bags?  Put an “are you sure” command in the microwave?  Have the microwave automatically sense what kind of object is inside?  This could be the future of microwave cookery or maybe microwave popcorn is like cigarettes – no matter how many gruesome images and macabre warnings they plaster all over the packs, people still light up. 

At least we're not serving this for dinner anymore.