What to Do If You Accidentally Ate Butcher’s Twine

What to Do If You Accidentally Ate Butcher’s Twineukka63 /123RF

What’s meant for tying up meat isn’t meant for eating. Still, it can (and it does) happen to everyone.

Butcher’s twine, a staple for tying up meat, is made out of cotton, a material that’s approved for food contact. It is not only safe to use in the oven but also strong enough to tie into knots.

You can find butcher’s twine in meat markets, provision stores, and, as the name implies, at butcher shops. It helps big birds and large slabs of meat stay intact as they shrink in the heat of cooking. In certain recipes, such as Thanksgiving turkey, it has the added benefit of holding the stuffing in place.

Customarily, you should remove all butcher’s twine before serving your food. But you probably already know that. So what happens if you left it there by mistake and you or someone else in the family accidentally swallowed a string of it?

To find out the answer, I spoke to Dr. Leann Poston, a licensed physician who holds an MBA and an M.Ed. Currently, she also works as a medical advisor for Impakt Fitness.

“Butcher’s twine is biodegradable and should pass right through your gastrointestinal tract without problems,” said Dr. Poston. “FDA-approved butcher’s twine that is food-safe is made of biodegradable cotton.”

Her past career includes practicing pediatric medicine, mentoring medical students, and acting as Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.

With that in mind, it is best to stay alert over the next few hours and watch out for pain, which may be a sign of a problem. “If you develop stomach or abdominal pain,” she added, “call your doctor to be evaluated.”

Sometimes, the cookbook calls for butcher’s twine, and you’re the person who ties it yourself. Othertimes, it comes with the cut of meat from the butcher or on the roast beef or rotisserie chicken from the store.

Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: butcher’s twine is not meant to be eaten, and, to avoid stressful situations or an unannounced visit to the physician, you should do your best to remove it before serving your food.

As I set about to seek sources for this story, I received more than one cautionary tale from folks who had neglected this step.

“A few years ago, I accidentally ate some butcher’s twine that was used in preparing the turkey. I was quite alarmed at first, and ended up seeking a medical practitioner’s advice, just to be sure,” Emily Cooper, Founder and General Director of luxury menswear brand Oliver Wicks, told me.

“Fortunately, consuming a small amount of butcher’s twine is not alarming, as it can easily pass through your digestive tract and end up inside your toilet,” she noted. From her doctor, Cooper received advice similar to the rule of thumb Dr. Poston had shared with me earlier.

“It can only be concerning if large amounts are consumed, as it can get caught in your intestines. Observe yourself after you’ve ingested the butcher’s twine, and go to your nearest hospital when you feel any signs of discomfort. It is always better to be safe than sorry.”

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