Avocado lovers beware: Super Bowl Sunday could be the pits. It all depends on how you slice it.
Just ask Todd Segall, who only wanted to serve up some guac at a friend’s Super Bowl party in 2012. Instead, he was left with blood on his hands.
“Super Bowl Sunday pre-game injury!” Mr. Segall posted to Facebook, along with a photo of himself grimacing from a hospital bed with gauze on his palm. “After a grueling 57 minutes at the ER, they were able to save my hand! Unfortunately my unfinished guac came in last place in the appetizer competition!”
Mr. Segall’s wound puts him in the ranks of thousands who have fallen victim to a grisly side effect of America’s avocado obsession: avocado-hand, the name given to the stab wounds, lacerations and—in extreme cases—tendon and nerve damage sustained when slicing or pitting an avocado.
Super Bowl Sunday, one of the biggest avocado-consumption days in the U.S., has the potential to be particularly perilous. The Hass Avocado Board, a California-based group,said 162 million pounds of avocados were consumed during the big game in 2019, and is projecting 153 million pounds will be eaten when Super Bowl LIV is played on Sunday.
Dr. Anup Patel, who handles an average of 10 to 15 avocado-hand cases a year through his work with the Orlando Plastic Surgery Institute and the Orlando Hand Surgery Associates, said a Super Bowl-related surge wouldn’t be surprising.
“That’s when people try seven-layer dip,” Dr. Patel said. “Take precaution when you make
Researchers at Emory University, who examined the avocado-hand phenomenon in a study published last year, called the rise in cases “an epidemic of hand injury.” They used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which collects information on injuries related to consumer products.
The researchers estimate 50,413 avocado-related knife injuries occurred from 1998 to 2017, with more than half of them—27,059—happening since 2013. The study said it “likely underestimates the true national incidence of avocado-related knife injuries” because the data only looks at patients who go to the emergency room.
Charles Daly, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Emory, said the attributes of an avocado make its handling ripe for accidents.
“They’re soft and then suddenly very hard and kind of slippery, so it’s the perfect set-up
for stabbing yourself,” said Dr. Daly, who co-authored the study. The researchers concluded that education and public-safety initiatives, “such as warning labels and avocados engineered for safe preparation, could help prevent serious injuries in the future.” The study also noted “knife-alternative dissection tools exist that can safely aid in the fruit’s dissection, including a spoon to scoop the pulp from the exterior skin.”
Some avocado pitters use a knife because they feel a spoon takes out too much of the fruit.
Mr. Segall—who grew up in El Paso and claims he makes “the best guacamole, hands down”—likens using a spoon to “using a butter knife to cut a steak—more work, unsatisfactory results!” He blames his injury on dull knives in his friend’s kitchen. When he went to hit the avocado pit with the blade as he would at home, the knife slipped off the seed and lodged in his hand.
“Don’t bleed into the guacamole,” he thought. “This is going to need stitches.”
Mr. Segall, 46, said the experience didn’t change his methods.
“I thought about telling you I’ve sworn off avocados and knives but that would be a lie—right back at it,” he said.
Fitness coach Melissa Norgart can’t say the same. During a recent trip to a poke bowl restaurant, the 47-year-old found herself cringing when she saw a worker trying to stab a pit with the pointy end of a knife
“I was like, ‘I can’t watch!’ ” she said, recalling her own bloody avocado-pitting incident in July 2018 that led to a surgery performed by Dr. Patel.
Ms. Norgart said she was rushing to top a salad when her usual method of setting the halved fruit on the counter and hitting the seed with the edge of the blade failed her.
“It wasn’t whacking out, so stupidly I picked up the avocado,” she said, recalling the moment she decided to use the tip of the knife to dislodge the seed. “I didn’t know my own strength, apparently, because the seed popped out and the blade went through all the way up to the handle into the avocado and almost came out the back of my hand.”
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The accident left Ms. Norgart with a permanently numb ring finger and a healthy fear of knives near avocados. Her kitchen now contains specially designed avocado-slicing and pitting tools—there are a variety of such devices—and safety gloves.
Avocado-hand victims are in star-studded company.
In 2012, actress Meryl Streep promoted her movie, “Hope Springs,” with a bandaged hand after she sliced it open cutting an avocado. Ex-“Bachelorette” Andi Dorfman posted a photo of herself to Instagram after undergoing surgery to repair her avocado-hand injury. On a 2018 episode of “The View,” co-host Joy Behar talked about stabbing herself while pitting an avocado.
Ms. Behar said this week that since the accident, which saw her on an IV and admitted to a hospital overnight, she buys her guacamole premade or makes her husband handle the
avocados. “From this particular incident I have learned to stay away from avocados and bagels,” she said.
When New England Patriot Tom Brady cut his passing hand days before the AFC Championship in 2018, social media was rife with speculation that the avocado-icecream-
loving quarterback was a victim of avocado-hand. A Patriots spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Emma Theriault, who writes novels for young adults, feels validated to be part of the illustrious group. “If Meryl did it, it’s OK that I did it,” said Ms. Theriault, who nicked a tendon in her hand while prepping avocados when working at a restaurant in British Columbia in 2014.
Avocado advocates say the fruit isn’t the problem.
The Hass Avocado Board in an August Instagram post called the idea that avocados lead to hand injury a myth, countering with, “#Fact: Using sharp objects improperly can lead to hand injury.”
“At the end of the day, we don’t want to discourage people from eating an avocado,” said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the group.
He recommended using a spoon to remove the pit, saying it’s an obvious solution since most people use a spoon to remove the avocado from its skin anyway. For those who can’t let go of their knife, he advised placing the avocado on the counter so “if you’re still feeling like an Iron Chef, at least your hand is out of the way.”
Max Horwitz, a London-based hand surgeon who has dealt with avocado-related injuries, said the key may be patience when handling an avocado.
“You can take more time thinking about how you cut it,” he said. “It’s preventable.”
Write to Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com