This article in the NY Times was written in regards to investigating a medical mystery, but in reading it I began to appreciate my job more and more:
Austin’s biggest employer is Hormel Foods, maker of Spam, bacon and other processed meats (Austin even has a Spam museum). Quality Pork Processors, which backs onto the Hormel property, kills and butchers 19,000 hogs a day and sends most of them to Hormel. The complex, emitting clouds of steam and a distinctive scent, is easy to find from just about anywhere in town.
A survey of the workers confirmed what the plant’s nurses had suspected: those who got sick were employed at or near the “head table,” where workers cut the meat off severed hog heads.
Dr. Lynfield became transfixed by one procedure in particular, called “blowing brains.”
As each head reached the end of the table, a worker would insert a metal hose into the foramen magnum, the opening that the spinal cord passes through. High-pressure blasts of compressed air then turned the brain into a slurry that squirted out through the same hole in the skull, often spraying brain tissue around and splattering the hose operator in the process.
The brains were pooled, poured into 10-pound containers and shipped to be sold as food — mostly in China and Korea, where cooks stir-fry them, but also in some parts of the American South, where people like them scrambled up with eggs.
The person blowing brains was separated from the other workers by a plexiglass shield that had enough space under it to allow the heads to ride through on a conveyor belt. There was also enough space for brain tissue to splatter nearby employees.
“You could see aerosolization of brain tissue,” Dr. Lynfield said.
The workers wore hard hats, gloves, lab coats and safety glasses, but many had bare arms, and none had masks or face shields to prevent swallowing or inhaling the mist of brain tissue.