Cancer mortality in the meat and delicatessen departments of supermarkets (1950-2006)

E. S. Johnson, K. Cardarelli, S. Jadhav, I. P. Chedjieu, M. Faramawi, L. Fischbach, H. Ndetan, T. L.C. Wells, K. V. Patel, A. Katyal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Meat cutters and meat wrappers in the meat department of supermarkets are exposed to oncogenic viruses present in raw meat from cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry, and their products (unpasteurized milk and raw eggs). Up to the mid 1970s, meat wrappers were also exposed to carcinogens present in fumes emitted from the machine used to wrap meat. Because of this we studied cancer mortality in a cohort of 10,701 workers in the meat and delicatessen departments of supermarkets, and we report here the findings after the third follow-up. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) were estimated in the cohort as a whole and in race/sex subgroups, using the US population for comparison. Study subjects were followed up from January 1950 to December 2006.Significantly increased SMRs of 1.3 (95% CI, 1.2-1.5), and 2.7 (95% CI, 1.2-5.3) were recorded for cancers of the lung, and tonsils/oropharynx, respectively, in the entire cohort, affecting nearly all race/sex subgroups. SMRs of 4.6 (95% CI, 1.0-13.6) for cancer of the floor of the mouth, and 2.8 (95% CI, 1.3-5.3) for cancer of the gall bladder and biliary tract were recorded only in White male meatcutters. Significantly decreased SMRs were observed for a few cancers.It is not known if the observed excess of cancers is a result of occupational exposures. However, substantial evidence points to fumes from the wrapping machine as a possible candidate for explaining the excess in female meat wrappers. Nested case-control studies that can examine risks from occupational exposures in greater detail, and adequately control for confounding factors are now needed, to permit specifically investigate the role of the oncogenic viruses, fumes and non-occupational risk factors in the occurrence of these cancers. The findings are important, not only occupationally but also because the general population may also experience these exposures, albeit to a lesser degree.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-75
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant ( 1 RO1 OH008687 ) from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health . Initial funding was provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , and the National Cancer Institute, USA . Other than in providing the funds, these agencies had no involvement in the design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data. The authors gratefully acknowledge the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union for their continuing support and collaboration over the years without which this research would not have been possible. We wish to thank Will Anthony, Harry McCraney and Richard Tatum II, for their assistance in proof-reading and critiquing various drafts of the manuscript. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Food animals
  • Meat processing
  • Meatcutters
  • Meatwrappers
  • Oncogenic viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (all)


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