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Pot Pie Salmonella Poisoning
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ConAgra Says No to Banquet Pot Pie Recall, as Fallout over Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak Still Reverberates

Oct 11, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

More than 150 people in 31 states have now been sickened by Salmonella tainted Banquet-brand  and generic store brand pot pies manufactured by ConAgra Foods, prompting the company to ask retailers across the country to pull the defective products from their shelves.   But ConAgra, yet to recover from this year’s earlier recall of Salmonella infected Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butter, is steadfastly refusing to issue an official pot pie recall.

At least 20 people have been hospitalized after eating the contaminated ConAgra pot pies.  Disturbed by the sheer size of the Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak, health officials from several states held a conference call yesterday with federal authorities.   During the call, two officials from Oregon and Minnesota reported that they pleaded with the ConAgra to remove all of its pot pies from the market.  They complained that Salmonella tainted ConAgra pies could still be found in stores, and decried the lack of an unambiguous message about the danger posed by the products.  According to those officials, their request for a recall was turned down.  For its part, ConAgra continues to insist that the pot pies are only dangerous if consumers fail to cook them properly.

In fact, ConAgra seems to be doing everything it can to downplay the entire Salmonella pot pie incident.    While the company has posted a press release on its website announcing a “health alert” regarding the tainted Banquet and store brand pot pies, there is no official list of pot pies affected by the notice.   ConAgra is simply telling consumers to check pot pies for the code “P-9” marked on the box.   But this could confuse some people who might not realize that a pot pie bearing the name of a local supermarket is actually a ConAgra product.

Even stranger, ConAgra is doing everything that would be required to actually recall the Salmonella tainted pies.  The company has asked stores to pull turkey and chicken varieties of its Banquet and private label pies from their shelves, and it is offering consumers refunds if they return pot pies.   The company has also stopped producing pot pies at its Missouri factory until the source of the Salmonella contamination can be determined.   Yet ConAgra stubbornly refuses to issue an official recall, an omission that might lead some people to believe that the bacteria tainted pot pies are not dangerous.  Taken in this light, ConAgra’s refusal to issue an actual recall notice is somewhat mystifying.

ConAgra’s refusal to recall its Salmonella tainted pot pies could have origins in its recall of Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butter earlier this year.  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 earlier this summer.

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. Considering all of the money it has spent to bring back Peter Pan, the last thing ConAgra wants is to remind consumers of the peanut butter fiasco by recalling yet another Salmonella contaminated product.   Immediately following the peanut butter recall, it was alleged that ConAgra may have taken its time responding to the Salmonella outbreak in order to protect its bottom line.  Now in the case of its Banquet and store brand pot pies, it appears that ConAgra could once again be putting sales figures ahead of its customers’ well being.


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