I sent out the below food safety infosheet to family & consumer sciences extension agents across North Carolina last night. One agent emailed me back this morning asking, "ok so what is the rest of the story……42 and 18 days left out of refrigeration….wasn’t there something growing and visiable there, foul smell?. Why did they think this could be consumed?"
Since the full product information wasn’t shared in the MMWR outbreak report it’s tough to guess what process (if any) was used to reduce spoilage organisms. Maybe there was spoilage, maybe not.
Regardless, based on the info we do have, something went wrong in communicating the risk-reduction practice (keep it refrigerated). The authors of the MMWR report state that in one of the cases "Keep refrigerated" was printed on the package in 1/8" letters (about 9 point font). Given that many of the soup products in the refrigerated food case look like shelf stable ones (cartons or jars that look like home canned soup) it’s not surprising to me that someone could make a mistake. We’ve seen similar problems with chicken products.