Thursday, March 24, 2005

Not Pleasant Consumption

I'm sure this story will make the rounds today:

Diner Finds Finger in Chili
A diner at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in San Jose, California, found a human finger in a bowl of chili prepared by the chain.
"This individual apparently did take a spoonful, did have a finger in their mouth and then, you know, spit it out and recognized it. Then they had some kind of emotional reaction and vomited."
- Ben Gale, Director, Department of Environmental Health for Santa Clara County.
Unfortunate but timely, given my recent topic. I was avoiding getting too ghastly, but I suppose I can suspend niceties long enough to describe the kind of environment in slaughterhouses that make these findings possible (assuming there was ground beef in that chili).

A Cut Every Three Seconds

Eric Schlosser, award-winning journalist and author of the groundbreaking and vomit-inducing Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, 2001, described it this way in his famous pre-publication article that appeared in Rolling Stone, 1998:
The Butcher's Shop by Bartolomeo Passerotti, 1580s, Rome

The injury rate among meatpackers is the highest of any occupation in the United States. Working in a slaughterhouse is three times more dangerous than working in an average American factory. Every year about one-third of all slaughterhouse workers - roughly 50,000 men and women - suffer an injury or an illness that requires first aid on the job. Aside from the automated production lines and a variety of power tools, most of the work in American slaughterhouses is still performed by hand.

A sharp knife is still the most important tool in a slaughterhouse. Lacerations are the most common injury suffered by meatpackers, who often stab themselves or someone working nearby. Tendinitis and Cumulative Trauma Disorders are also quite common. Many slaughterhouse workers make a knife cut every three seconds, which adds up to about 10,000 cuts during an eight-and-a-half-hour shift. If the knife is not sharpened regularly and grows dull, additional pressure is placed on a worker's tendons, joints and nerves. A large number of meatpackers develop shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome and "trigger finger" (a disorder in which fingers become frozen in a curled position). The slippery floors in slaughterhouses, the carcasses rapidly swinging past, and the cutting tools and heavy machinery are responsible for back injuries, falls, broken bones, dismemberments and fatal accidents.
Other Forms of Contamination

From the same article:
The slaughterhouse tasks most likely to contaminate meat are the removal of an animal's hide and the evisceration of its digestive system. The hides are now removed by machine; but if a hide has not been adequately cleaned first, pieces of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat. Stomachs and intestines are still pulled out of cattle by hand; if the job is not performed carefully, the contents of the digestive system may spill everywhere. Workers being rushed are bound to make mistakes. The consequences of one error are quickly multiplied. Knives are supposed to be cleaned and disinfected every few minutes, something that workers in a hurry tend to forget. "If a knife gets contaminated," Bjerklie says, "then it's just going to spread that contamination to everything it touches." The literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: fecal coliform levels, food-borne pathogens, total plate counts, et al. Behind them all lies a simple explanation for why most people get sick:
There is shit on the meat.
I found Schlosser's article here, where you can read it in its entirety. I recommend waiting at least 2 hours after eating though.

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