How Pig Brains Caused An Outbreak Of Neuropathy
Neuropathy, in short, refers to a problem with nerves. In 2007, four or five workers at a Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minn., started reporting similar symptoms like fatigue, weakness in the legs and numbness. While these workers were sent for evaluation, it wasn’t until Spanish interpreter, Carol Hidalgo, asked Dr. Richard Schindler at the Austin Medical Center, “What’s a neuropathy?”
After this initial meeting, Schindler started to look into the cases some more and found a total of 11 cases by the week’s end. Soon it appeared that the problem was coming inside of QPP, but in order to avoid panicking the public, a press release was issued on Dec. 3 by the Minnesota Department of Health to state that it’s not a risk to the general public and nothing is wrong with the food supply.
However, five days earlier, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a state epidemiologist, toured the QPP and found the following – none of which were presented in the press release. In an area to clean pig heads, workers were using a procedure known as “blowing the brains.” Workers would clean out the skull by essentially liquefying the pig brains using high-pressure compressed air. In the process, brain matter would splatter everywhere and some would even get disintegrated into a fine mist. It probably didn’t help that the workers only wore eye goggles or nothing at all, and using only short sleeve lab coats with gloves, leaving exposed skin to the elements.
Since these procedures were a risk to employee health, other pork plants in the country were also reviewed. Only two were identified, one in Indiana and one in Nebraska – both have since stopped cleaning out pig brains with high-pressure compressed air.
As for the workers, their neuropathy deals with the peripheral nerves exiting the spinal cord. While those who were affected are undergoing treatment, nerves in general heal very slowly and could mean a long road to recovery for these workers.
The lesson here? Wear proper protective gear people!