Pot pies are back: new labels, same problems

Guess what I found at my local supermarket last week.

ConAgra announced Nov. 14, 2007, that it was starting to manufacture Banquet pot pies again, and earlier last week, they were available for purchase.

On Oct. 11, 2007, ConAgra announced it was recalling all of its frozen pot pies to fix some label discrepancies. This was two days after an outbreak of Salmonella was linked to Banquet pot pies and the company reassuringly told consumers that getting sick was their own fault and they should be more careful and cook pot pies thoroughly.

In the end, at least 272 people in 35 states had trouble simply cooking the pot pies and got sick with salmonella.

As I documented before, the instructions on the pot pies weren’t so great.

The old labels had statements about how easy it was to cook in the microwave. The new labels are much more explicit, saying the pot pies need to be cooked in at least a 1100 Watt microwave and that a meat thermometer should be used in several places to ensure that an endpoint temperature of 165 F has been reached.

The best the bureaucrats at the British and Irish food safety authorities can come up with is "piping hot" to cook an entire turkey, while American ConAgra expects teenage kids full of hormones and horniness to test pot pies with a meat thermometer in several places so they won’t barf from Salmonella.

It’s not going to happen.

And there’s a risk.

I bought some of the new and improved pot pies and did the same cooking experiment, following what ConAgra called " redesigned easy-to-follow cooking instructions … to help eliminate any potential confusion regarding cooking times."

After four minutes in a 1150 Watt microwave, the interior of the pot pie registered at about 50F. After letting it sit for an additional three minutes — as per label instructions – the temperature varied anywhere from 75 – 190 F.

I decided to cook an additional two minutes.

After six minutes of cooking, and the previous three minutes of resting, the pot pie had tremendous variation in temperature: anywhere from 200F down to 100F.  165 F is required to kill Salmonella.

I wouldn’t want my kids popping these in the microwave after school.

ConAgra has never come clean on which various ingredients may have been the source of the Salmonella. Was it the poultry? How about the vegetables? The pie crust? ConAgra won’t say.

Further, were the new labels tested with consumers? If I was a multi-million dollar corporation like ConAgra headed to a dance with food safety lawyer Bill Marler cause my product made people barf, I’d want some evidence that pot pie fans where actually following the instructions on the labels. I would have tested the new labels with at least 100 teenagers afflicted with hormones and horniness before introducing it to the mass market.

Maybe they did. But that’s up to ConAgra to prove.

And until they do, all products that claim to be safe in the microwave should contain nothing but fully cooked ingredients.

That’s the only way to get the poop out.

USA Today reported on the new pot pies Monday morning.