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Inhalation of Pig Brain Matter May Be Causing Food Processors Debilitating Illness

By Pamela Jean     Dec 9, 2007 in Health
Workers at the head table at the Quality Pork Processing plant in Austin, MN are turning up ill at an alarming rate. Head table employees spend their days using air compressors to eject the brains. Inhalation of the brain matter may causing the illnesses.
Five workers at the Quality Pork Processing plant have been diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP, a rare immune disorder that attacks the nerves and produces tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, sometimes causing lasting damage. The disease is considered rare, according the the Mayo Clinic, with new cases of CIDP occurring at the rate of only one or two per 100,000 people each year.
Unfortunately for the employees gifted with the grisly job of serving at the "head table" that figure seems to be considerably higher.
Over eight months from last December through July, 11 workers at the plant in Austin, MN developed numbness, tingling or other neurological symptoms, and some scientists suspect inhaled airborne brain matter may have somehow triggered the illnesses. All those developing the illness were employed at the "head table".
An estimated 1,100 pig skulls are processed per hour. The task entails cutting off the pigs cheeks and snout, then inserting a nozzle in the head and blasting air inside until the light pink mush that is the brain tissue squirts out from the base of the skull.
37-year-old Susan Kruse, who has worked at the plant for 15 years until she got too weak to do her job last February, was responsible for removing the meat from the back of the animals' heads. She said she doesn't recall any spray or mist from the de-braining.
The head table workers were protected by safety glasses, helmets, gloves and belly guards, but none wore anything over their mouths or noses, she said.
The use of the air compressor to remove the brain matter was suspended last week until investigators can determinewhat is actually causing the illnesses of the employees in question.
Quality Pork has not indicated just exactly what it does with the pork brains. Sold fresh and in cans, pork brains are fried and eaten in sandwiches or gravy in some parts of the country. But it is a small market, and the American Meat Institute, which represents most of the nation's pork processors, does not even track sales.
State health officials said there is no evidence the public is at risk, either from those afflicted, or from any food leaving the plant, which supplies Hormel Foods Inc.
American Meat Institute spokeswoman Janet Riley said: "We are watching the situation very closely and we've offered any help that the state health department would need. But certainly if facts came to light that justified the change in practices, you could imagine protecting the workers is critical."
Richard Morgan, who heads the union local at Quality Pork, says workers are worried.
"The process has stopped, where they assume it was at," he said. "It could have been from something different. Nobody knows at this time. We can talk about gray matter till we're blue in the face."
This has to fall under the "Top 10 Jobs I Would Never Want To Do" (nor do I believe I even could if I had to!)
Geez, who knew?
I don't think I'll ever look at a can of Spam the same way again.
More about Pork, Slaughterhouse, Immune system illness