news story

    • Anonymous
      December 3, 2007 at 10:41 pm

      Mysterious illness affects Austin plant workers

      A mysterious illness is showing up among workers at Quality Pork Processing in Austin. Eleven people who work at the plant have now gotten sick in the past year, and state health officials are still unsure why.

      Five of those people have symptoms of a chronic inflammatory disorder called CIDP, complaining of weakness, numbness and fatigue. Some have been able to continue working, while others have been hospitalized and taken disability.

      All employees diagnosed with the disease work in just one area of the plant where the brains are removed from the heads of pigs. The disease has not appeared among employees who work in other areas of the plant.

      They don’t know how the workers may have contracted the illness, but say 10 of the cases appeared between December 2006 and July 2007.
      When the 11th case appeared last month, the Health Department says it decided it was best to tell the public. Health officials do not believe there is any risk to people outside the plant.

      Officials there say they’ve never seen cases like these before, even nationally, making their investigation much more difficult.

      “Something happened last fall, last summer,” said Gene Hugoson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture. “Something that triggered some different kind of reaction that’s given us a reason to try to go back and analyze that.”

      As the investigation continues, workers at the plant are wearing extra protective gear like arm sleeves. And, again, the Health Department says there is no risk to the general public, or to the food supply.

      For more information on CIDP click here. CIDP

      By Janel Klein, KARE 11 News

      (Copyright 2007 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

      Last Updated: 12/3/2007 6:03:57 PM

    • Anonymous
      December 7, 2007 at 12:15 am

      These kind of incidents are interesting because no one knows what starts this. me, i think it was a virus, but my husband thinks it may have been somethin i encountered in hawaii, like mold

      who knows … maybe someone will figure it out. 🙁

    • Anonymous
      December 7, 2007 at 7:21 am

      Ok….now I’m beginning to worry this is a hoax. It’s not supposed to be Austin, it’s supposed to be MN.

      Where did you get this? Look on the main forum for the one I’m talking about.


    • Anonymous
      December 7, 2007 at 9:33 am

      Dells Mom,

      Sorry for the confusion, this story is correct as is the other one. The meat packing plant is in Austin, MN.

      Hope this clears up the confusion.


    • Anonymous
      December 7, 2007 at 10:09 am


      Thanks for setting it straight. I was feeling very stupid for not checking more about the story since I sent it to his dr. at John Hopkins. He sent me back a reply about what he thought about the situation. I don’t like sending things to ppl. that are not correct.


    • Anonymous
      December 9, 2007 at 3:20 pm

      I find this “pig brains” news story esp. interesting, as all of my problems date back to 1976 when I had the SWINE flu shot. A big scare back then, the swine flu, which never really materialized — the bird flu of today? The shots were ultimately discontinued because an abnormal number of people who took the shot were becoming afflicted by… Guillain-Barre syndrome! (in fact, it is my understanding that these incidences were what initially put G-B into the public consciousness).

      In my case, shortly after receiving the shot. I was hospitalized for asceptic viral meningitis … and again the next year. I was ultimately diagnosed with mollaret’s syndrome, recurrent meningitis (although later that dx came under scrutiny) which reoccured intermittently for 20 years. A year or so later, CIDP. Did one metamorphose into the other? Or in some shape or form, were they inter-related all along? (There were studies undertaken at USC and UCLA in the 90s relating to lawsuits brought against the US Gov’t by swine flu recipients)

      The bigger tragedy, from my perspective, is that the autoimmune syndromes the shot engendered have been passed down to my daughter, who does not have CIDP, but does have an unusual number of chronic autoimmune issues.


    • Anonymous
      December 10, 2007 at 5:52 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Your comments are interesting – I had the swine flu shot back then when I was in college. I didn’t have any reaction (that was memorable), but now my daughter has cidp. Coincidence? Probably, but you have me wondering. Thanks for your insights.


    • Anonymous
      December 17, 2007 at 8:34 am


      Pig-Brain Removal Technique Suspected in Minnesota Slaughterhouse Illnesses
      Friday, December 07, 2007

      AUSTIN, Minn. — On the slaughterhouse floor at Quality Pork Processors Inc. is an area known as the “head table,” but not because it is the place of honor. It is where workers cut up pigs’ heads and then shoot compressed air into the skulls until the brains come spilling out.

      But now the grisly practice has come under suspicion from health authorities.

      Over eight months from last December through July, 11 workers at the plant — all of them employed at the head table — developed numbness, tingling or other neurological symptoms, and some scientists suspect inhaled airborne brain matter may have somehow triggered the illnesses.

      The use of compressed air to remove pig brains was suspended at Quality Pork earlier this week while authorities try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

      “I’m still in shock, I guess,” said 37-year-old Susan Kruse, who worked at the plant for 15 years until she got too weak to do her job last February. “But it was very surprising to hear that there was that many other people that have gotten this.”

      Five of the workers — including Kruse, who has been told she may never work again — 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.

      New cases of CIDP occur at the rate of one or two per 100,000 people each year, according to Dr. P. James B. Dyck of the Mayo Clinic.

      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.

      The working theory from two Mayo Clinic neurologists treating the workers: Exposure to pig brain tissue scattered by the compressed air triggered the illnesses.

      “As we’ve investigated these patients, we have information that suggests very strongly that the immune system is activated very strongly in a very compelling way,” said Dr. Daniel Lachance.

      Compressed air could turn some brain matter into a mist that could be inhaled by workers, said Mike Doyle, a microbiologist who heads the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. Or the workers may have come into contact with something dangerous and then touched their noses or mouths, he said.

      Scientists have yet to figure out if there is something in the brain matter that could be causing the symptoms.

      “The hard part will be identifying the causative agent and associating that with the animal, showing that the animal carries it,” Doyle said.

      Minnesota Health Department spokesman Doug Schultz said the agency is looking into the theory but has not ruled out other causes.

      Quality Pork has not said 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.

      Exactly how many of the plant’s 1,300 employees worked at the head table is unclear; Quality Pork’s chief executive did not return calls. Kruse said there were 11 workers at the head table on any given shift, but the lineup changed because of turnover or because people were assigned other jobs.

      In a rapid-fire process that is noisy, smelly and bloody, severed pigs’ heads are cut up at the head table at a rate of more than 1,100 an hour. Workers slice off the cheek and snout meat, then insert a nozzle in the head and blast air inside until the light pink mush that is the brain tissue squirts out from the base of the skull.

      Kruse, whose job was to remove meat from the back of the animals’ heads, 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.

      Head-table workers are now required to wear plastic face shields and protective plastic or rubber sleeves, the Health Department said.

      The use of compressed air to remove hog brains is relatively uncommon, according to industry officials. That’s because many plants don’t even remove them. And some of the processors that do extract brains simply split the hogs’ skulls open.

      Some of the biggest pork processors — Tyson Foods Inc., JBS Swift & Co. and Cargill Inc. — said they don’t handle brains because the market isn’t big enough. No pork workers at Tyson, Cargill or JBS Swift have reported symptoms similar to those of the Quality Pork employees, the companies said.

      CIDP attacks the lining around the nerves, slowing or blocking the brain’s signals to the muscles. But exactly what triggers the attack is unknown.

      Victims can recover fairly quickly if the illness is caught early, said Dr. Kenneth Gorson, a neurologist at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.

      In advanced cases, treatment arrests the disease but doesn’t reverse its effects, he said. Treatment involves infusions of immune globulin or a plasma-exchange technique that removes antibodies from the patient’s blood. Another option is a steroid called prednisone.

      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.”

      Workers are worried, said Richard Morgan, who heads the union local at Quality Pork.

      “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.”

    • Anonymous
      December 17, 2007 at 9:04 am

      Sounds like they have something else after all, although the story is a bit confusing.

      Wednesday, December 12, 2007

      QPP illness may not be chronic

      Quality Pork Processors president Kelly Wadding said this morning the Minnesota Department of Health has completed random testing at the plant and is investigating the cause of a neurological illness among 11 employees.

      “Hopefully, they can draw some conclusions,” Wadding said, explaining that health officials finished collecting data last night and are changing their diagnosis of the illness.

      MDH officials last week identified the condition as chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP, a rare neurological disorder in which tingling and numbness in the arms and legs occurs.

      Now, Wadding said, officials have determined the illness is in fact not chronic or terminal, and can be treated.

      “They have determined it is not that rare illness,” Wadding said. “They get treated, they get better, most everybody’s back to work.

      “I look at it as good news,” he said.

      Wadding said most employees who developed symptoms never left work at QPP.

      Also, Wadding added, reports of a 12th person showing symptoms have not been confirmed.

      Dr. Daniel Lachance, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, said preliminary tests conducted last week on the 12th worker indicate she has the same symptoms as the 11 others, and she worked in the same area. The evaluation is not yet complete, “but I’m convinced that she has it,” he said. “The preliminary testing is consistent” with the others.

      State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said she wasn’t surprised by the new case and said investigators may find even more at the Austin plant or at others. They spent last week talking to hundreds of plant workers, and anyone who reported neurological symptoms was referred to Mayo.

      Lachance said a 13th worker was also being evaluated, but preliminary results are not yet available.

      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.

      QPP 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.

      Lachance and Lynfield also said that further testing has ruled out CIDP, a disease in which the immune system for unknown reasons attacks the protective sheath that surrounds nerves. CIDP strikes about 2 out of 100,000 people and can often be disabling.

      Lachance said the key to differentiating the condition that the Austin workers have from CIDP is a characteristic of CIDP that involves an interruption or blockage of electrical signaling in and between nerves. Tests now show that none of the 11 has that problem, he said.

      While they do have nerve damage caused by their immune systems, he said, at this point it can be categorized only as an inflammatory response that is attacking the nerve sheaths.

      Two of the 11 have different symptoms than the others, Lachance said. One has spinal cord problems, and the other has muscle problems. The others have more similar symptoms: tingling, numbness, discomfort in the arms and legs, and varying levels of weakness.

      They also described “a very abrupt sense of fatigue,” he said.

      One of the workers, for example, played soccer regularly until he started experiencing tingling and numbness in his legs. Now he can’t play and even walking up stairs exhausts him, Lachance said.

      The Mayo Clinic is developing a treatment regimen for the workers, he said. Most have not been completely evaluated, but he expects that with help most will improve.

      “If we never exactly figure it out and patients stop getting sick, that’s good,” he said. “We’re happy with that.”

    • Anonymous
      December 17, 2007 at 2:22 pm

      Boy…..I’m glad it’s not CIDP but it doesn’t sound like something I’d want.

      I think some workers will be getting some big bucks soon, I’m sure the lawyers have already started circling.


    • Anonymous
      December 26, 2007 at 9:04 pm

      Did they do spinal taps on any of these workers? How did they rule out CIDP or GBS for that matter. The article only states one thing and I’m sure that is not enough.

    • Anonymous
      December 27, 2007 at 6:13 pm

      If not CIDP then what?