Gulf Oil Spill Redux: Gelatinized Beef Fat in the Houston Ship Canal

U.S. Coast Guard photos of the beef tallow leak that closed down the Houston Ship Canal earlier this week.

Early Tuesday evening, approximately 250,000 gallons of beef fat spilled out of a shore-based storage tank owned by Jacob Stern & Sons, an agri-products company specializing in the resale of "value-added oleochemicals." Fifteen thousand gallons of the fat then found its way into the Houston Ship Channel through a storm drain.

The fat, or tallow, as it's called in industrial circles, is rendered-down slaughterhouse waste destined to be used in soaps, pharmaceuticals, and even as a lubricant in the steel rolling industry. On contact with water, it apparently thickens to form the creamy yellow "patties" (that's the technical term) you see in the photo above.

In response to the spill, the U.S. Coast Guard closed nearly a mile of the channel, and sent out six boats full of workers to deploy booms and then fish out the foot-long chunks. According to their press release, "the environmental impact is expected to be minimal, and the cause of the incident is currently under investigation."

Meanwhile, it's a lovely visual reminder of the often invisible by-products of industrial meat production.

Photos courtesy the U.S. Coast Guard; story via a tweet from @bittman.