Pot Pie Pandemic?

After concerns that some of its Banquet poultry pot pie products may be linked to an outbreak of salmonella, ConAgra recalled all Banquet and store brand pot pies last week.

The reason more than 165 people in 31 states got sick is because they didn’t photo by Forty Photographs (via flickr)get the freezer pies hot enough. Because these pot pies are not ‘ready to eat,’ they must be heated to at least 165 degrees to be safe from foodborne illness. Determining how long that takes isn’t easy, considering the variety of microwaves. ConAgra’s instructions listed cooking times for high, medium and low-wattage microwaves and didn’t mention anything about temperature.

According to the New York Times piece on the topic, ConAgra originally blamed consumers for not following directions. That has changed, as illustrated by my conversation with ConAgra spokesperson Stephanie Childs:

We do know there is some confusion regarding the cooking instructions and it is our responsibility as a company to provide the customers with clear and concise instructions so they can prepare the product. We’re moving forward with plans to enhance the cooking instructions so that consumers are able to cook the product and enjoy it at home safely.

The directions are the problem and the thousands of recalled pot pies (Childs said they didn’t have a count yet) are fine. Yet, they’re going to be “destroyed,” said Childs. USDA Spokesperson Amanda Eamach said that destruction means either incinerating, rendering or sending the product to landfills. “The end goal is to make sure that the product is not edible and it is not available for resale,” said Childs.  

Let me be clear–the Salmonella strain of bacteria is a serious health risk and I think food recalls are usually appropriate. But in this case, when the problem isn’t with the food but the directions on the box, couldn’t we do something besides toss the pies? Couldn’t stores to cook them in a regular oven, ensure they reach 165 degrees with a food thermometer and feed their employees? Give them to food shelters with the same instructions? Heck, why not have a big pot pie hoedown at ConAgra’s Missouri headquarters. 

Yet, can you imagine any one of these scenarios ever happening?

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