In light of the large recall of Conagra’s Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice Frozen Meals due to its link to at least 30 Salmonella Chester illnesses in 15 states, grocery stores across the country are scouring their freezers to ensure it is pulled off the shelf. Two stores, Grocers Giant Food LLC and Stop & Shop Supermarket
Yesterday, the New York Times published an interesting, as well as disturbing, article on the continuing dangers of ConAgra frozen pot pies. Specifically, despite the 2007 outbreak and all the serious illnesses it caused, the safety of the pot pies still depend on the customer cooking them correctly. Apparently, the challenge of making the pot pies safe to eat, even if cooked to a temperature below what would constitute a "kill step," was simply too difficult. Here is how the NY Times described the decision:
The frozen pot pies that sickened an estimated 15,000 people with salmonella in 2007 left federal inspectors mystified. At first they suspected the turkey. Then they considered the peas, carrots and potatoes.
The pie maker, ConAgra Foods, began spot-checking the vegetables for pathogens, but could not find the culprit. It also tried cooking the vegetables at high temperatures, a strategy the industry calls a “kill step,” to wipe out any lingering microbes. But the vegetables turned to mush in the process.
So ConAgra — which sold more than 100 million pot pies last year under its popular Banquet label — decided to make the consumer responsible for the kill step. The “food safety” instructions and four-step diagram on the 69-cent pies offer this guidance: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”
For the full article, see www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/business/15ingredients.html
But getting a frozen-hard pot-pie to reach a uniform temperature of 165 degrees is by no means an easy thing to accomplish, as the Times article amply demonstrates.
But attempts by The New York Times to follow the directions on several brands of frozen meals, including ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies, failed to achieve the required 165-degree temperature. Some spots in the pies heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt.
A ConAgra consumer hotline operator said the claims by microwave-oven manufacturers about their wattage power could not be trusted, and that any pies not heated enough should not be eaten. “We definitely want it to reach that 165-degree temperature,” she said. “It’s a safety issue.”
A safety issue indeed. Because if that pot pie is contaminated with a deadly pathogen, and the cooking process does not essentially pasteurize the pot pie, then eating will could be the real "kill-step" here.
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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
We’ve learned more about proper cooking temperatures in recent weeks since ConAgra recalled chicken and turkey pot pies for Salmonella contamination. Microwave temperatures vary, and using a food thermometer to measure a food’s internal temperature and…
The ConAgra plant that produces the company’s Banquet pot pies was closed yesterday among concerns of Salmonella contamination in Banquet chicken pot pies that had been manufactured in the plant. The Associated Press reported on the closure today:
ConAgra Foods Inc. voluntarily stopped production Tuesday at the Missouri plant that makes its Banquet pot pies
ConAgra announced today that the company will re-open the plant where Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter was produced. The plant was closed in February after it was identified as the source of a Salmonella outbreak that had sickened hundreds of people who ate contaminated Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter. From Forbes.com:
The Omaha-based company