I am sitting at home not wanting to head to the airport for a trip to New Orleans (it is Thanksgiving weekend anyway) to meet with lawyers and insurers from ConAgra (sounds fun?).  I must admit that I am skeptical of the meeting given that to date ConAgra has resolved no claims of any significance   However, there seems to be some recent interest in resolving the thousands of legitimate customer claims.  Given that ConAgra is facing legal defense bills of seven figures each month, has incurred some $50-60 million in recall cost – and who knows how much in lost sales – and now faces more of the same in Pot Pies, perhaps it will get serious and take care of its customers.

As you know, on June 1, 2007, the CDC reported that a total of 628 persons had been infected with Salmonella Tennessee in 47 states since August 1, 2006. That number has now risen in excess of 714.  However, remember that according to AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,” Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004;38 (Suppl 3):S127-34, 714 ill people is an undercount by 38.6 times – That is an actual total of 27,560 people sickened by ConAgra’s Peanut Butter.

In addition, the outbreak strain of Salmonella Tennessee has been isolated from several opened and unopened jars of ConAgra produced Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter and from two environmental samples obtained from the Sylvester, Georgia ConAgra plant. Rumor also has it that State and Federal labs have tested in excess of 100 jars of peanut butter from Salmonella Tennessee infected persons (stool culture positive) and that dozens of jars have tested positive for Salmonella Tennessee. We have tested nearly 1000 jars of peanut butter from clients (Salmonella Tennessee stool culture positive and not), and to date six have tested positive.  Several of our positive peanut butter tests, and culture positive clients, have the lid codes with 21116251 on the top (means it was produced by the Sylvester ConAgra plant on September 22, 2006).  We believe that the CDC has similar information, but it has not fully responded to our FOIA to date.  States’ responses have also been slow, but are coming in.

So, wish me luck (or a bit of magic) on the flight.  More importantly, however, wish ConAgra the wisdom to understand that its future success is tied to taking care of its poisoned customers and in making a serious commitment to food safety.  ConAgra needs to remember that it is no "Big" deal, in fact it is "Easy," to do the right thing.  If taking care of customers is too hard, ConAgra also needs to remember the FDA inspection of 2005:

"….  alleging poor sanitation, poor facilities maintenance, and poor quality program management.  Specifics in that complaint include an alleged episode of positive findings of Salmonella in peanut butter in October of 2004 that was related to new equipment and that the firm didn’t react to, insects in some equipment, water leaking onto product, & inability to track some product….  reporting several issues at the firm that in summary allege poor sanitation practices, poor quality program management and poor facilities maintenance."