The return of Banquet pot pies after a Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds was the subject of an article by Julie Schmidt in USA Today.  The article focuses on ConAgra’s new packaging and cooking instructions:

Most people know to check the Thanksgiving turkey with a thermometer to make sure it’s fully cooked and safe to eat. But a microwaveable pot pie?

That’s what the maker of Banquet frozen pies is telling consumers to do after salmonella bacteria in some pies led to a $30 million recall in October. The episode was linked to reports of 272 illnesses in 35 states.

ConAgra Foods, which earlier said sickness was likely related to undercooked pies, now says its previous cooking directions were confusing and that Banquet pies should be cooked to 165 degrees, a temperature high enough to kill bacteria.

Food safety expert Doug Powell of the International Food Safety Network did a cooking experiment with a pot pie that he purchased just after the recall was announced in October – following ConAgra’s cooking instructions exactly to see whether he could cook a pot pie in the microwave to a temperature hot enough to kill Salmonella.  He conducted the same experiment again, this time following the new cooking instructions on a Banquet pot pie’s box, then wrote about his second experience:

I bought some of the new and improved pot pies and did the same cooking experiment, following what ConAgra called " redesigned easy-to-follow cooking instructions … to help eliminate any potential confusion regarding cooking times."

After four minutes in a 1150 Watt microwave, the interior of the pot pie registered at about 50F. After letting it sit for an additional three minutes — as per label instructions – the temperature varied anywhere from 75 – 190 F.

I decided to cook an additional two minutes.

After six minutes of cooking, and the previous three minutes of resting, the pot pie had tremendous variation in temperature: anywhere from 200F down to 100F. 165 F is required to kill Salmonella.

I wouldn’t want my kids popping these in the microwave after school.

Maybe pot pies shouldn’t be microwaved at all.