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ConAgra Fires Food Safety Exec Hired After Peter Pan Peanut Butter Salmonella Debacle

Jan 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
ConAgra Peanut Butter Salmonella

ConAgra Foods Fired The Safety Executive

ConAgra Foods has fired the food safety executive that the company brought on board in the wake of last year’s Peter Pan Peanut Butter Salmonella outbreak and recall.   The dismissal of Paul A. Hall from his position as ConAgra’s vice president of global food safety is not encouraging news as the company tries to recover from the fallout from not only the Peter Pan Peanut Butter Salmonella recall, but last fall’s Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak and recall as well.

ConAgra maintains that Hall was terminated because he violated one of the food giant’s employment policies, and that the move was not related to food safety.  But the news only again underscores the food safety problems ConAgra has faced this year.  Hall was hired in April 2007, following the February recall of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters that where produced at ConAgra’s Sylvester, Georgia plant. Those tainted peanut butters were blamed for an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning that sickened more than 600 people. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the Salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened last summer.

ConAgra Re-Launched Peter Pan

In August, ConAgra re-launched Peter Pan, once one of the country’s top-selling peanut butters. The product returned to stores with much fanfare, with ConAgra backing Peter Pan with a 100-percent money back guarantee. Prior to the launch, ConAgra mailed out 2 million coupons for free Peter Pan Peanut Butter, as well as $1-off coupons. ConAgra also redesigned the Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar with a “New Look” label.

But ConAgra’s Peter Pan re-launch was quickly overshadowed by the Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak.  ConAgra’s Banquet and store brand pot pies were first linked to dozens of cases of Salmonella poisoning throughout the country on October 9. That day, ConAgra issued a health alert about the Salmonella pot pie outbreak, warning consumers not to eat any of its 7-ounce store brand or Banquet Pot Pies with the codes “P-9” or “Est 1059” on the package. Despite the health alert, ConAgra did not recall the tainted Banquet pot pies. Instead, ConAgra tried to deflect blame for the Salmonella pot pies by claiming that consumers caused the outbreak by failing to cook the pies properly. On October 11, ConAgra finally did issue a pot pie recall.

Ultimately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) traced 272 cases of Salmonella poisoning in 35 states to the tainted ConAgra pot pies. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigation into the Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak found flaws with record keeping at the Missouri plant that produced the pot pies, as well as deficiencies with ConAgra’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control plan that spells out what the company does to ensure product safety. The ConAgra Banquet Pot Pie Recall ended up costing ConAgra around $30 million.

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