A little over two weeks ago, IBM released the results of a survey that it had conducted among adult grocery shoppers in the ten largest cities in the United States (100 in each city). The survey was intended to gather opinions about food safety issues, and what it found is as disappointing as it is not surprising. For example, less than 20% of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are self and healthy. Moreover, 60% of consumers are concerned about the safety of the food that they purchase. And the cause of this significant drop in trust? The rise in food recalls linked to contaminated and unsafe food products. According to the survey results, 83% of the people surveyed were able to name a food product that had been recalled in the last years, with nearly half (46%) naming peanut butter as a recently recalled product.

The irony here is that the rise in contamination-related recalls can be explained, in large part, by the drive for greater profits through: the use of cheaper ingredients purchased from suppliers willing to cut-corners (see, e.g. Peanut Corporation of America and its customer Kelloggs); the failure to update and maintain manufacturing facilities to ensure the highest standards of safety (see, e.g., Cargill and its peanut butter plant); insufficient product testing and quality control (see, e.g. Dole baged Spinach); and over-reliance on the consumer to cook the product "properly" as a means of making it safe, when it should have been safe to begin with (see, e.g., Banquet pot pies and Topps-brand and American Chef’s Selection brand frozen ground beef patties).  But by putting profits above safety, food manufacturers are trading short term gains for long term losses.  If consumers lose trust in manufactured food products, they will stop buying them.  Look, for example, at peanut butter sales, which still  have not recovered, and may never do so.

To read the full press release discussing the survey results, please click on Continue Reading.Continue Reading Consumer Trust in Food Safety in the U.S. Plummets Because of Rise in Recalls

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. 

For additional discussion, please click Continue Reading.Continue Reading Giving New Meaning to the Term “Kill Step”

Food safetyThis week’s food safety infosheet from the International Food Safety Network focuses on proper cooking temperatures for food. 

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