Killer Fatballs And Thrombotic Fatbergs
January 10, 2014

Killer Fatballs And Thrombotic Fatbergs

Fat can be delicious. Fat can make your jeans miraculously shrink round your waist. Fat can kill people. Fat, in one form or another, always seems to be in the news, usually in terms of its effect on humans. But fat moves in mysterious ways. It can cause problems you would not normally consider and the abundance of one particular source of fat (from those ostrich sized Christmas turkeys) has been identified as a bird killer, while deep under London there is a growing menace from accumulated fat. Be careful with that fat, dear reader.

Within a few days of Christmas that turkey doesn’t seem quite as attractive as it did on Christmas Day when it took two people to lift the shiny golden feast out of the oven. After the meal is over and you get to clear up the kitchen, you are faced with the gunk that has collected in the roasting tray. A lot of people are used to feeding fat to their backyard birds in one form or another, be it fatballs, fat filled coconut shells or even bacon rind. The temptation is to turn all that turkey fat into bird food by mixing it into home-made fatballs. Don’t do it. It can kill your birds.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) issued a warning in December about the potential problems of feeding turkey fat to wild birds. Some fat is fine for birds, like those suet filled coconuts and quality fatballs. But turkey fat doesn’t harden like some other fats and can end up leaving a greasy coat on the birds. This can cause their feathers to lose their ability to protect the birds from water and heat loss as it affects both insulating and water-proofing. Also, the non-solidified fat can contain meat juices which can lead to food poisoning. Birds are particularly susceptible to infections in winter as, says the RSPB, “Their defences are low and their energy levels depleted with the cold”. Another hazard is that salt is often added to the roasting turkey and high levels of salt in the juices could be highly toxic to birds. You can’t give it to the birds, so what do you do with that stuff in the roasting tin? A lot of people just pour it down the drain while still warm: not a great idea.

Just as fat clogs up your arteries and eventually blocks them, it can bung up sewers and cause what I would call “sewer thrombosis.” Fat, even soft turkey fat, combines with other stuff in the sewerage system to form what are known as “fatbergs,” which are huge underground accumulations of hardened fat and garbage which resemble their floating, but much more attractive counterparts – icebergs.

Back in the summer of 2013 Thames Water, the company responsible for clearing London’s old Victorian sewer system were called to a street in Kingston after residents complained they could not flush their toilets. Deep in the sewers beneath, workers found the cause. The UK’s biggest ever fatberg had formed from “wrongly flushed festering food fat and wet wipes”. It was as big as a London bus and weighed around 15 tons. Twenty yards of sewer were damaged which took weeks to repair and roads had to be closed to traffic. What a mess.

Take a grisly swim down a fat-choked sewer in the video on this Thames Water webpage.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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