Pork Plant Illness Remains a Mystery

by 5m Editor
12 December 2007, at 9:47am

US - Health officials have backed away from their initial diagnoses of strange neurological illnesses among 11 workers at a pork processing plant in Austin. They say a 12th employee now appears to have the same symptoms.

Last week the Minnesota Department of Health announced an investigation into a cluster of illnesses found in 11 workers at Quality Pork Processors. At the time, officials identified the condition as chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP, and said at least five workers had it.

But after additional testing, officials said none of the workers fits the precise diagnosis of the rare disease, although the tingling and numbness the workers have in their arms and legs are similar to it.

The employees all worked in the same area of the plant - the "head table" - where workers slice meat off pigs' heads and then blast compressed air into the skulls to force the brains out.

The investigation has focused on the compressed air system, which is used by only a few U.S. meat processing plants. It exposes workers to airborne particles of pig blood, tissue and fluids, and went into operation around the same time that the workers first started reporting problems last December.

Quality Pork Processors has stopped using it and now gives employees more protective clothing and face masks.

State health officials have 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.


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5m Editor