Down and Dirty: Ten Most Germy Jobs

Of course, sanitation workers have the benefit of knowing how dirty their surroundings are, unlike office workers, so they may be less likely to make hygiene errors.

"The fact that it looks clean or dirty may have no bearing on if it's contaminated with influenza," said Weber.


When you bring meat home from a supermarket, you cook it and clean any surfaces it touched to avoid salmonella and E. coli.

But what if, instead of a few steaks, you were dealing with an entire carcass amounting to hundreds of pounds of meat? Such is the situation faced by workers in meatpacking plants. And while they may get to wear protection against those microbes, it isn't always enough.

Last December, a pork processing plant in Austin, Minn., gained notoriety when 12 of its workers came down with a neurological illness that impaired their movement, in some cases leading to paralysis. Similar symptoms cropped up among Indiana meatpackers in January.

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named the illness progressive inflammatory neuropathy. While investigators do not know the exact cause, the culprit in this case appears to have been contact with pig brain tissue, the result of a compressed air system that was used to blow brains out of the pig's heads.

While federal legislation has aimed to improve life for meatpackers over the years, it has not always kept them from getting sick from the harmful microbes they encounter on the job. And meatpackers may also suffer from the fact that when unsafe conditions are revealed, people's first concern may be with what they're eating, rather than how it was made.

When Upton Sinclair wrote his landmark book "The Jungle," which he began publishing as a serial in 1905, documenting the unsanitary conditions of meat production, the resulting uproar is partially credited with instigating the passage of the Food and Drug Act of 1906.

But Sinclair's book was intended to draw attention to the plight of the meatpackers at the plant. He remarked in 1906 that, "I aimed at the public's heart and, by accident, I hit it in the stomach."


Cold & Flu season is here! Visit the OnCall+ Cold & Flu Center to get all your questions answered about these nasty viruses.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...