by Marion Nestle
Oct 15 2007

Food safety yet again

In yesterday’s New York Times, Andrew Martin says he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make people sick but it never occurred to him to worry about frozen dinners. Until now. Customers who got sick from eating ConAgra pot pies contaminated with toxic Salmonella were told it was their own fault. They should have done a better job of following the directions for cooking the pies. Martin convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of that idea. If you want to eat frozen meals, he says, you had best zap them to pieces and use a thermometer. But why not argue that ConAgra should do a better job of making safe products in the first place? Hasn’t the company ever heard of HACCP? Why isn’t it following standard food safety procedures to keep harmful microbes out of food? If ever there was a situation ripe for a lawsuit, this one is it. I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently. The lawyers are already on the case. It should be an easy win.

  • Sheila

    If the company intends to be sloppy about its manufacturing cleanliness, and depends entirely upon consumer cooking to make the product safe, it needs to clarify the cooking instructions. To tell the average consumer to cook till “done” does not provide enough guidance as to what is “done”. I did an unscientific poll of the nurses at our clinic, and they all made 2 important mistakes in thinking about these products: First they thought the pies were already cooked, and they were only reheating. Second, none of them knew the correct internal temperature to which the pies should be heated, and none of them has a proper thermometer with which to test the pies. If this is coming from nurses, I am guessing the average consumer will have similar problems.
    I believe the manufacturer has the responsibility to make the products with high standards of hygiene and safety, AND the responsibility to be crystal clear in the package instructions about what constitutes correct cooking for the product.

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