Banquet Pot Pie Recall Highlights Need for Clear Cooking Instructions on Frozen Foods

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Fall 2007 salmonella outbreak tied to frozen Banquet Pot Pie, highlights the need for frozen, not-ready-to-eat foods to be clearly labeled as requiring complete cooking.

Thousands of pounds of frozen Banquet pot pies manufactured by ConAgra Foods, Inc. were recalled in October 2007, after they were linked to a number of cases of salmonella food poisoning.

The final CDC report about the recall was issued on Friday, confirming that at least 401 people in 41 states were sickened during the salmonella outbreak, with over 100 people hospitalized.

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The true number of people who suffered food poisoning from the Banquet pot pies could be over 15,000, as the CDC indicates that there are an estimated 38 unreported cases for every reported case.

The CDC investigation found that about 77 percent of those who suffered salmonella food poisoning had eaten the frozen pot pies after cooking them in a microwave, which did not kill off the bacteria in the meat and sauce.

Microwaves heat foods unevenly, and confusion over the microwaving instructions may have resulted in failure to cook the pot pies fully.

The CDC report indicates that “[t]his outbreak highlights the need to cook not-ready-to-eat frozen foods thoroughly; these products should be clearly labeled as requiring complete cooking, and cooking instructions should be validated to account for variability in microwave wattage and common misconceptions among consumers regarding the nature of not-ready-to-eat foods.”

A similar salmonella food poisoning outbreak this year was tied to consumers mistakenly undercooking frozen chicken entrees that were breaded or pre-browned. After reports of 32 cases of salmonella infection in at least 12 different states, the USDA warned consumers in October 2008 not to cook frozen, stuffed chicken entrees in the microwave, which could fail to kill the foodborne bacteria in the raw chicken.

Salmonella bacteria is commonly found in poultry, beef, eggs, milk and fresh produce which are contaminated with animal feces. If the bacteria causes infection, it may result in symptoms of food poisoning could include abdominal cramps, fever and mild to severe diarrhea. In severe cases, the illness may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, especially among the elderly, very young or those with weak immune systems.

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