Smashed avos and sliced arteries: the secret cost of our avocado obsession

Our avocado obsession.
Our avocado obsession. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Our avocado love affair has a bloody underbelly.

As more and more brunches are prepared, overzealous amateur chefs are carving up their hands due to dodgy de-pipping techniques.

It's called "avocado hand", and it's on the rise.

People attempting to remove pips by plunging sharp knives directly into stones are ending up in emergency rooms at an alarming rate.

Staff at a London hospital have reportedly become accustomed to the "post-brunch surge", while the affliction even claimed the high-profile scalp of Meryl Streep seven years ago.

A new US study found more than 50,000 people presented to emergency departments with avocado-related hand injuries in the 20 years leading up to 2017. 

Almost 30,000 of the cases occurred in the five years prior to 2017.

The lacerations – 80 per cent of which were sustained by females – rose almost uniformly with the boom in avocado consumption.

Avocado consumption in Australia and the US has approximately tripled in the past two decades, and a top Australian surgeon believes the number of "avocado hand" cases has likely risen by a similar proportion.

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Australians consumed around 30,000 tonnes of avocado in 1998. Last year, according to Avocados Australia, that figure was almost 90,000 tonnes, which equates to close to 4 kilograms of avocados per Australian each year.

Jill Tomlinson, who specialises in hand reconstruction surgery, said surgeons had become "increasingly aware" of people presenting with cuts sustained preparing avocados.

Dr Tomlinson said she saw a handful of cases each year where a home chef thrust a sharp knife directly through the palm of their hand, causing it to come out the other side.

"If they're right-handed, they're holding a halved avocado in their left hand and they're using the right hand to plunge the knife directly towards the palm of their left hand, which is where the pip of the avocado is," said Dr Tomlinson, a board member of the Australian Medical Association. 

"The knife then glances off the pip and goes into their hand … a sharp knife will keep going until it reaches a hard object."

Less frequently, sharper knives slice straight through the pip, before piercing the avocado flesh and sinking into the hand.

Injuries to arteries, nerves and tendons can cause permanent loss of hand function and sensation.

So, how didn't we know avocado hand was a thing? 

It could be that culprits aren't forthcoming with the admission they have the kitchen skills of a primary-schooler. 

Or it may be the fact that Australian health authorities don't keep statistics on the specific activities that lead to hand injuries, making a study on the topic difficult to conduct.

Dr Tomlinson called on the Australian avocado industry to post instructional videos on social media to educate the public on safe methods to remove pips, while other avo-obsessed nations grapple with the problem.

Across the ditch in New Zealand, 100 individuals each year lodged compensation claims to the government for injuries sustained slicing avocados between 2013-15.

In 2017, a peak British surgeons association called on the government to introduce mandatory safety labels on the fruits. "Perhaps we could have a cartoon picture of an avocado with a knife, and a big red cross going through it," said Simon Eccles, the association's secretary.

In the study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, public education on safe cutting techniques and warning labels were suggested by the study's authors as ways to stem the bleeding.

John Tyas, chief executive of Avocados Australia, said avocado hand was "definitely a thing", but was cold on the idea of warning labels. "Maybe they should put warnings on knives," he said.

Mr Tyas, who said the injury was likely under-reported due to people being embarrassed, said the peak body would consider using social media to post instructional videos. 

Instructional videos can already be found on the Avocados Australia website.

Dr Tomlinson, who noted the potential benefits of warning labels but cautioned on a "nanny-state" solution, said using a spoon to pop out the pip is the safest technique. 

She also suggested slicing the avocado into quarters, making the pip easily dis-lodgeable.

"There are many ways to skin an avocado," said Dr Tomlinson.