Indiana, Minn. Illnesses May be Linked

By Pork news staff

Federal health officials are investigating the possibility that illnesses among pork plant workers in Minnesota and Indiana are related.

“The afflicted employees work in areas in which compressed air is used for removal of brain tissue,” said Lola Russell, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're letting people know that the illnesses are not associated with eating or handling pork products, but is specifically related to slaughterhouse workers who handle pig heads," she said.

Asked what specifically about the use of compressed air to remove pig brains is causing illness in the workers, she responded, "It's still under investigation."

The problem surfaced in early December when 11 workers at Austin, Minn.-based Quality Pork Processors Inc. fell ill with neurological sickness. Quality Pork promptly halted harvesting pig brain tissue as a precaution.

Russell said that after taking on the Minnesota case, CDC launched an investigation of processing techniques in 25 large pork-processing plants in 13 states, and found only two others that use compressed air to remove pig brains. One was in Indiana, and the other was in Nebraska. The Nebraska plant has reported no illnesses, she said, though the pork plants in all three states have voluntarily discontinued using the compressed-air technique.

The Minnesota workers complained of changes in sensation and weakness in their limbs. Russell deferred to the Indiana State Department of Health for comment on such details related to the Indiana workers. The department did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

The company name of the Indiana plant was not disclosed.