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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

“Blaming The Victim” Strategy Remains In Food Industry’s Playbook

I do not want to be accused of speaking ill of American Industry while being on foreign soil, but in reading the New York Times and today’s story titled “Increasingly, Food Companies Cannot Guarantee Safety” by Michael Moss, it makes it clear that the U.S. food industry cannot get off its “blame the consumer” soap box.

 Mr. Moss looks at the aftermath of the pot pie salmonella outbreak of 2007 that sickened at least 15,000 Americans.  After going through the background of the outbreak and the difficulty pot pie makers were having in being certain their products were being sold pathogen-free, the New York Times reports this:

“So ConAgra — which sold more than 100 million pot pies last year under its popular Banquet label — decided to make the consumer responsible for the kill step. The “food safety” instructions and four-step diagram on the 69-cent pies offer this guidance: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”

Never a newspaper to resist a challenge, NYT headed for their kitchens with the instructions.  Alas, there was a problem:

But attempts by The New York Times to follow the directions on several brands of frozen meals, including ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies, failed to achieve the required 165-degree temperature. Some spots in the pies heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt.

A ConAgra consumer hotline operator said the claims by microwave-oven manufacturers about their wattage power could not be trusted, and that any pies not heated enough should not be eaten. “We definitely want it to reach that 165-degree temperature,” she said. “It’s a safety issue.”

One of my clients said it all:

ConAgra’s episode has raised its visibility among victims like Ryan Warren, a 25-year-old law school student in Washington. A Seattle lawyer, Bill Marler, brought suit against ConAgra on behalf of Mr. Warren’s daughter Zoë, who had just turned 1 year old when she was fed a pot pie that he says put her in the hospital for a terrifying weekend of high fever and racing pulse.

“You don’t assume these dangers to be right in your freezer,” said Mr. Warren, who settled with ConAgra. He does not own a food thermometer and was not certain his microwave oven met the minimum 1,100-wattage requirement in the new pot pie instructions. “I do think that consumers bear responsibility to reasonably look out for their well-being, but the entire reason for this product to exist is for its convenience.”

Much more in this story, right here.  I better get back to the US soon.