Are the cremains of different people ever mixed together at a crematorium

Within the last month or so someone here on the Dope made the claim that, when a person is cremated, the ashes their family receives will have the cremains of other individuals mixed into those of their loved ones. Of course, I can’t find the thread now, but that’s the gist of their statement.

I’m quite dubious of this claim. First, I can’t imagine it’s legal, although my Goggle-fu is failing me on this. Second, this would be a huge scandal just waiting for some local cub reporter to blow open and sink the funeral home responsible. Finally, I can’t think what kind of cost-cutting or time-reducing element this would have on the funeral home: they would still need the same number of urns/boxes, bags for the ashes, and labels printed. The poster gave the impression that a number of bodies were cremated without the crematorium being cleaned out between uses, and at the end a big ol’ pile of ashes was mixed up a divvied up between the correct number of urns. It would only be a matter of time before someone noticed that there were some bone screws in grandma’s ashes and… wait a minute! Grandma never had any kind of surgery!!!

So I’m curious… is there any validity to the claim that cremains are mixed together before being returned to the family members?

Just to be clear, I’m not referring to:

A) some sort of Potter’s Field scenario where the ashes of the indigent are mixed with the ashes of other people and buried in a mass grave. I have no idea if this is / was ever standard practice (and no you don’t need to remind of of the Holocaust), but it’s not what I’m asking about.

or B) a tiny bit of ash from a previous cremation that inadvertently gets mixed in with that of the following cremation. I’m sure this happens, maybe even regularly, but the amount must be absolutely minuscule.

Welll, hallelujah! The hamsters are actually doing their job today. Here’s the original post:

bobkitty notes it’s not intentional, which I hadn’t remembered. However, the statement “Granted, it’s likely her ashes are mixed with all sorts of other people’s ashes, but folks don’t typically know that” implies 1) this is common, and 2) there is normally a significant amount of other people’s ashes mixed together.

So what’s the dope?

It’s not like they scrub the crematorium with bleach after each cremation, so yes there is probably some cross contamination. The ashes you receive after a cremation are the ground up bits of remaining bones. Most likely it’s 99% your loved ones remains.

I have no firsthand experience but I’ve watched every video Caitlin Doughty has ever put on youtube and read both her books. Based on what I remember of her explanations, the body+casket is placed in the cremation machine and burned. The machine is then swept out and any remaining pieces are run through a cremulator or ground in a mortar and pestle if they are too small for the cremulator, (i.e. from a baby). Then the ashes are placed in an urn and taken to the family. The only avenue of mixing that I can see would be your point b which you’ve already dismissed.

Ooh, I found probably the most relevant video!

I believe it happens, but I don’t think it’s supposed to and the reason we hear about it is because it is a scandal.
A quick look on google confirms this.

Three cheers for Caitlin Doughty. Her YouTube show, “Ask a Mortician,” is outstanding. Plus, how can you not love a crematory operator’s memoir entitled “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?”

My late father donated his body to a regional medical university. About a year after his death, per the agreement, we received a box containing a bag of ashes. I’ve often wondered if it was really his ashes, the ashes of somebody else, or a mixture of the ashes of several donors. Regardless, the ashes are buried in the cemetery in our family plot.

That is a seriously cool video. Lessee… I can work on my thesis or bingewatch a newly discovered youtube channel. Hmmm… decisions…

Thanks for the link, and the recommendation. I’m gonna check out more of her stuff today.

However, she confirmed my suspicion, namely that a few tiny particles of a previous cremation may end up in grandma’s ashes, but outright mixing them doesn’t happen—or isn’t supposed to happen, at any rate.

Theoretically, there should have been a metal disc included with the ashes inscribed with the name of the crematory and a unique tag number. If you called the crematory, they should be able to look up the body associated with that tag. Probably not worth exhuming the plot, though.
Lancia, I hope you enjoy what you watch! Caitlin’s videos are fascinating and informative. I won’t lie, my favorites are the ones in her Iconic Corpse series.

This is not an answer to the question, but I know someone who worked for a funeral home that did cremations. Periodically he would have to do a thorough clean of the oven which usually resulted in a canister type vacuum bag full of ash that would be taken to the municipal dump for disposal. He learned a valuable lesson about checking wind direction before emptying a bag full of ash on his first such trip.

It’s been my experience that the ashes are given to you in a plastic baggie inside a box. I suppose you could have the funeral home put it in an urn for you, but I expect they’d charge you for the privilege.

Huge fan of Caitlin and her videos; also a former funeral home worker. It’s not a “few tiny particles.” It’s not a ton, it’s probably closer to the 1% number quoted above, but it’s not zero. And when you’re talking about a small amount of ashes, such as children, it’s an unavoidably larger percentage.

The fact is that we don’t clean out the crematorium between cremations with a fine-tooth comb; some days, if there are a lot of cremations, the post-cremation sweeping isn’t as thorough as it should be. Not everyone knows, or wants to know, that. My point in the quoted post was that people get… a little weird about cremains, understandably so, and they prefer to think that the cremation process involves a sterile field that ensures only their loved one is in the urn. That’s simply not the case.

We also would do a deep cleaning that resulted in a fair amount of cremains; we didn’t dump them, though. We had a special urn for them kept in a separate spot in our columbarium.

I startled the funeral director who did my husband’s cremation when my conversation revealed that I knew both that the cremains are run through a grinder/bones broken up after the fire, and that ashes intended to be disbursed can be run through it twice for extra fineness. Most people don’t know about things like that, and don’t want to know.

I’m reasonably sure that what I got back was indeed my husband’s remains due to the amount of hardware along with the ashes. The guy had been dubious when I said I wanted the hardware back, urged me not to be disappointed, that most bone hardware was just a few bits and screws… then on the phone call to tell me the ashes were ready for pick up he says “Oh my god - that one rod was 18 inches long!” Actually, “only” 14, but yeah, the spouse had a LOT of hardware in his right leg, which is why he was always setting off metal detectors.

This, exactly.

You’ll get a limited selection of urns at the funeral home, and they’ll charge you a fat price. Better off visiting Amazon for an urn, where you’ve got huge selection and really good prices.

Thanks for that link - as the Family’s Keeper of Ashes I’ve been meaning to get urns for several family members. That will really come in handy.

I asked this very question of the funeral director when we were discussing my son’s funeral. He told me that (in Wisconsin, at least) it is state law that the crematory machinery can only accept one body at a time and that it is illegal for them to mix ashes together. I’m assuming that most if not all states have the same requirement.

“Mix together” has a very specific definition. No, they absolutely aren’t stacking bodies on top of each other like cordwood (or like deceased pets, if you choose the group cremation option); that’s a huge no-no. But as I explained, there is a non-zero chance that there are some ashes of other deceased individuals mixed in with the average cremains. It’s not a completely sterile process where the body goes into a smooth-sided oven, is consumed, and the workers spend an hour cleaning out every bit before the next body goes in.

I am certainly not implying that a huge percentage of the average returned cremains actually belong to a random person. I’m definitely not saying that the average funeral home does group cremations and divvys up what’s left to the various families (I’m also not saying there aren’t awful places that DO do exactly that- TriState got away with their practices for a long time). What I am saying is the average family will receive 98-99% of their loved one’s cremains; some will remain in the crematorium, and some will be a mix of other people’s cremains or flakes of the crematorium coating.

If (the generic) people are concerned enough about getting their loved one back that it’s a FAQ, doesn’t it make sense that the industry would generally downplay the fact that there is a small bit of John Doe with grandmother? And- taking that a step further and going back to what prompted my response in the first place- how would a family feel if they knew a boyfriend had shaved off their body hair, burned it, and mixed it in with their family member?

Actually A is the operating procedure of la county ca as when my nephew and uncle passed on we were informed that if we couldn’t afford burial arrangements the county would do it as mentioned above and my uncle is in a plastic bag in a sealed box that our cats are determined to see if "dads "actually in there