Is it safe to eat pork brains?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 17 2008 4:00 PM

Is It Safe To Eat Pork Brains?

Only if you don't inhale.

Pig
Workers were sickened after breathing airborne hog brain tissue

Early last year, a number of workers at a pork processing plant in Austin, Minn., began reporting similar symptoms: weakness, fatigue, "heavy legs," pain, and sensory disturbance. When doctors and state health officials investigated, it became clear that all the affected workers had been stationed in or near a portion of the plant where hog brains were liquefied using blasts of compressed air. Wait, does that mean it's time for the Explainer to stop eating pork brains?

No, but inhaling them would be a bad idea. After months of study, it now seems fairly certain that breathing aerosolized hog brain tissue triggers an immune response in the human body that is responsible for these workers' ailments. But there is no evidence thus far that eating pork or even pork brains will trigger the illness. In a press conference Wednesday at the annual convention of the American Academy of Neurology, doctors stressed that "there is no indication that this is a food-borne illness," nor any indication that it can be passed from person to person.

At the same time, the investigation is preliminary, and scientists have yet to identify the specific agent that is making workers sick. And, anyway, given that a single serving of pork brains in gravy contains a heady 3,500 milligrams of cholesterol—or 1,170 percent of the government's recommended daily intake—it might be best to go easy on the brains.

Bonus Explainer: Does anyone actually eat pork brains? You bet. They are a stir-fry staple in China and Korea, and while they may not make it onto the menu of your local bistro, Rose brand pork brains are commonly seen in Southern supermarkets in the United States. Longtime North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble once offered up a recipe for pork brains and eggs for a congressional cookbook.

Food companies in the United States may need to come up with a new way to extract their product, however. The compressed-air method—which has been around since the 1990s—seems doomed. The Austin plant voluntarily stopped performing the procedure late last year. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Agriculture have identified two other plants, one in Indiana and one in Nebraska, that also used the procedure; there, too, workers have shown the same symptoms. The officials are now trying to find out whether the compressed-air procedure is used abroad.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.