The (In)convenience of Frozen Foods

An interesting article in the New York Times explores the sad state of food safety today. As more and more food manufacturers look to global suppliers, and as the supply chain becomes more complex, safety is often overlooked or simply becomes too difficult to oversee. The article looks to the salmonella food contamination outbreak in 2007 that involved ConAgra Foods’ Banquet brand frozen pot pies. Some 15,000 people purportedly got sickened by the pot pies, and though ConAgra conducted studies and tests to try to pinpoint the culprit, the company never identified the contaminating ingredient. So what did ConAgra do? It decided to place the responsibility of killing any contaminants or pathogens in the frozen pot pies on the consumer. Instructions prompt the consumer to heat the pot pies until the internal temperature reaches 165 F in order to ensure food safety. I don’t know about you, but it has never occurred to me to take a food thermometer to a frozen pot pie.

Many suppliers do not check for contaminants, nor are they required to. The U.S. Department of Agriculture demands that producers make sure that any and all pathogens would be killed if consumers follow the cooking instructions on the packaging. But is this enough? Should more be done? Apparently some believe so, as lawsuits against ConAgra regarding the pot pie outbreak have been filed.