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ConAgra shuts down pot pie plant because of salmonella concerns

The Canadian Press
October 9, 2007

OMAHA, Neb.—ConAgra Foods Inc. voluntarily stopped production Tuesday at the Missouri plant that makes its Banquet pot pies after health officials said the pies may be linked to 139 cases of salmonella in 30 states.

In Canada, officials at grocery chains Sobeys, Loblaws and Safeway said they do not sell Banquet pot pies.

ConAgra maintains that its pies are safe if they’re cooked properly, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a health alert Tuesday afternoon to warn consumers about the link between the company’s product and the salmonella cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking reports of the salmonella cases since Wednesday. A CDC spokeswoman said the largest numbers of salmonella cases had been reported in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Salmonella sickens about 40,000 people a year in the U.S. and kills about 600. Most of the deaths are among people with weaker immune systems such as the elderly or very young. It can cause diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting. Most cases of salmonella poisoning are caused by undercooked eggs and chicken.

So far no deaths have been linked to the pot pies.

Earlier this year, ConAgra had to recall all of its peanut butter because it was linked to a different salmonella outbreak.

The USDA said the Missouri plant made Banquet and generic store brand pot pies. All of the pot pies made at the plant in question have “P-9” printed on the side of the box as part of a code above the use- by date.

Federal officials said consumers shouldn’t throw away or eat the pot pies until the Food Safety and Inspection Service can determine the source of the salmonella contamination and verify proper cooking instructions.

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said the company is working with federal investigators to determine whether any additional precautions are necessary. No recall is being planned, she said.

Childs said ConAgra is confident in the safety of its chicken and turkey pot pies when all the cooking instructions on the package are followed. It is important to follow the directions when the pies are cooked in a microwave.

Pot pies need to be cooked longer in microwaves that have less power, Childs said. A good sign that the pot pie is done is when steam rises out of it.

Childs said the cooking will kill any common pathogens routinely found in uncooked products that contain poultry.

Michigan State University food microbiologist Elliot Ryser said consumers shouldn’t have to worry much about pot pies as long as they are completely cooked.

Cooking pot pies in a microwave can be problematic because microwaves heat food unevenly, said Ryser, who is part of the university’s National Food Safety & Toxicology Center.

“If you’re going to heat that product uniformly, it requires some diligence on the part of the consumer,” Ryser said.

In February, the CDC linked ConAgra’s peanut butter, including Peter Pan, to the illnesses of more than 625 people in 47 states.

ConAgra resumed shipping Peter Pan in August. The company faces several lawsuits filed by people who said they became ill after eating Peter Pan.

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