• Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    An abscess: Its not a Tumor!

    I try not to react to every negative photo or post I see online about the meat industry. Frankly, I just don’t have the time. However, when friends or a followers of my blog ask about certain post over and over again, I think it’s time to address it. That happened to me this week.

    This photo and claim from a ‘butcher’ has been circulating around social media. I added the words in yellow.

    I know how disgusting this picture looks, and using the word CANCER makes it extra scary. However, as a meat scientist, I can assure you that it is not cancer. It is an abscess, a localized infection that the animal’s body was fighting.

    Abscesses like this one would be very rare to find in a butcher shop. Our meat supply is one of the most inspected industries in the world. Not even hospitals and nursing homes are inspected like meat plants are. Employees of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service inspect every single animal as it goes through the harvest process. In a big commercial plant, dozens of pairs of eyes will look at every carcass. When an abscess is spotted, it is removed immediately. If an animal has been sick, USDA inspectors will see the signs of illness in the animal’s lymph nodes and internal organs. Sick animals are condemned and not allowed to go into the food supply.

    The meat is further processed and cut up on the fabrication floor. When an abscess is found there, the whole line must be stopped and sanitized. The abscess and the tissue around it is removed and discarded. At that point, the knives, the table, and anything that was in contact with the abscess would have to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

    So, there are several barriers that keep abscesses out of a retail butcher’s hands. I have worked in the meat department of a grocery store and have known several butchers throughout my career. I know they take their jobs very seriously and that they would treat an abscess just like it would be treated at the packing plant. If an abscess did make it to them, I’m sure they would cut out the abscess and the tissue around it and discard it. Then the equipment and area would be cleaned.

    I take issue with posts like these for several reasons.

    1.          They are scare-tactics meant to shock and gross-out people, causing a mistrust of our food system. Cancer is such a scary word. Most of our meat comes from young animals who would be very unlikely to have cancer. Furthermore, an animal with cancer would be very sick and would be condemned on the kill floor by the inspector.
    2.       Pictures like these aren’t about safety or public health; they are about generating clicks and shares and fame for the originator. They are to twitter what auto accidents are to drivers: a sight that makes you slow down and look – and in the case of Facebook and Twitter, perhaps even share, giving the originator of the content attention and followers.
    3.       If these butchers that shared this ‘information,’ were being truthful and were so concerned about these practices in their place of business, why didn’t they speak up? Why would you work somewhere for 30 years where you were disgusted by their policies? Why hasn’t he called his meat supplier and complained about these defects in the meat? 

    This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the safety of the US meat supply, the 8,000 inspectors who oversee production and the hard-working people in our meat plants who bring the safest, most affordable meat supply to our tables. I hope this information helps you feel the same way.

    As always, let me know if you have any questions.