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Frozen Pot Pies May Kill You, But It's Your Fault


weinoo
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This past week, the New York Times ran a page one story about food companies placing the onus for the safety of some of their frozen foods on the consumer. As a matter of fact, the article is called Food Companies Are Placing the Onus for Safety on Consumers, and it can be read by clicking here.

Evidently, the supply chain is so complex, and the ingredients come from so many different sources, that the companies can't guarantee the safety of the items...

Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

Now, I'm not saying that locavorism is the way to go for everyone, and that's probably better discussed in the recent Alice Water's Backlash topic, but isn't this just one more example of how the unfettered globalization of our food may actually be leading us down the wrong path?

So, in order to try to increase the safety factor of these frozen foods, it's time to really cook up those pot pies and Hungry Man dinners. And it's your fault if you get salmonella or some other badness from the food. As the Times points out:

So ConAgra...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.”

And General Mills:

now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens.

Allright, so a couple of thoughts:

A. I guess a lot of people buy these products, because they sell hundreds of millions of them.

B. Does this worry those of you who do buy them?

C. What are you doing differently to make sure this stuff is safe?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Now, I'm not saying that locavorism is the way to go for everyone, and that's probably better discussed in the recent Alice Water's Backlash topic, but isn't this just one more example of how the unfettered globalization of our food may actually be leading us down the wrong path?

This paragraph caught my eye:

Research on raw ingredients, the guide notes, has found salmonella in 0.14 percent to 1.3 percent of the wheat flour sampled, and up to 8 percent of the raw spices tested.

Spices are probably the most globalized ingredient out there. And if we, say, add black pepper immediately before serving a dish, it's hardly going to be cooked. So I pose the question: are spices leading us down the wrong path?

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I read this same article last week and was shocked that the government is doing nothing about this lack-of-food safety situation. It's a ridiculous and absurd idea that these companies are allowed to completely give up on the goal of selling a non-contaminated food product and telling the customer that it's their fault if they get sick from it.

CYA? They can kiss my A.

We're in this amazing age where technology is growing in leaps and bounds and yet they're allowed to say "Uh, we can't find the source of contamination but we're still going to continue to sell the contaminated product". This is completely insane and inane.

They just don't want to admit that the manufacturing model they're using is broken and more immportantly, they don't want to spend the money to correct the situation.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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We're in this amazing age where technology is growing in leaps and bounds and yet they're allowed to say "Uh, we can't find the source of contamination but we're still going to continue to sell the contaminated product". This is completely insane and inane.

I don't know, I have this pet thing about personal responsibility. You have risks with chicken (just to pick one example from a long list) if it's not cooked properly, nobody says quit selling chicken until it can be cooked to below recommended temps with 0% worry that it's safe. They're telling people that in order to be sure it's safe, cook it to xxx degrees. If you choose to go bounce a ball in the road despite your parents warning, don't look all shocked when the car hits you. The fact that a car shouldn't have been there in the first place because it was a private road won't make you any less hit.

No, I am not suggesting there should be no rules and regs for food safety, and yes, I do agree that they should take a better shot at the problem than "not our fault, our stuff comes from all over". I'm just saying that the cupboards would be pretty bare (and boring) if they banned anything that is potentially hazardous.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Yes, Tri2Cook, I agree about the personal responsibility. It just amazes me that the public has to be reminded not to use the blow dryer in the bathtub, or while sleeping. But I digress.....

The issue here is not personal responsibility and protecting the unwashed masses from "potentially harmful ingredients" but the traceability of what is in your (and my) food.

I work, and have worked all my professional life, in the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing industry. We are FDA-regulated, as are the food producers. If an organization in my industry, even for a nanosecond, said, well.....you know...we don't really know where our raw materials come from, and we don't really take any responsibility for assuring they're of good quality, but here, take this drug anyway, *trust us*.....we'd be shut down in a heartbeat, and the resulting bad press would probably bankrupt the company in question. Now I'm NOT talking about the safety issues of "please Mr./Ms. Consumer, don't eat the entire bottle of drugs at one time", but simply the inherant safety of the finished product. You, as a consumer, have a right to expect not to be poisoned by your medications when you take them as instructed.

I expect the same from my food. I don't need the government protecting me from trans fats, and excess sodium and all that, but I do sorta expect producers to ensure I'm not eating salmonella or e. coli when I have that salad. Or that ice cream, or melamine in my baby formula (or dog food) or whatever.

It's not that hard to know where your raw materials are coming from and who is producing them. It *does* cost money, I'll grant you that, but it's not hard. And its a cop out for the food industry to say they can't trace sources of contamination episodes. They just don't want to, because it would eat into their profit margin (or they'd just raise prices to compensate).

It is also an issue of the convoluted supply chain for bulk food ingredients, and the globalization/centralization of the food supply. I live in a suburb of Los Angeles. In the major grocery chains here, I simply cannot remember the last time I saw a real-honest-to-God butcher cutting down a primal to put in the meat case. Everything is cryovac-ed and comes from a central supply depot who-knows how many time zones away, that supplies probably all of the grocery chains in all of those time zones. One sick cow has the potential to be distributed over much of the country.

One of the local grocery chains here just started advertising that "only we can guarantee all of our beef is U.S. grown".....WTF? I've resigned myself to produce from all over the globe (and choose not to buy it), but when you don't know, because the manufacturers either don't know, or choose not to disclose the origin, its an issue.

The contaminated pet food from a couple of years back should have been a wake-up call, and unfortunately wasn't. The scope of the peanut recall this year was a shocker, even for someone as familiar with these issues as I am.

As a consumer I can, and do, make educated choices, when I have the information to do so. And if I choose to undercook my chicken, or eat raw eggs, or use my blow dryer in the shower, I will deal with the consequences. But when I am not given the information with which to make an educated choice, that is NOT my failure. It is the failure of the people who sold me that bill of goods, and that needs to change.

OK.......off my soapbox now. Carry on :wink:

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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But by telling you in writing "for your safety, always cook to xxx degrees" you have been given the information. Maybe not the whole story behind it, which I agree the consumer does deserve, but the information necessary to insure your safety and to decide if you want to risk eating something that may be unsafe if not heated as directed. That's more handling/cooking information than you get on a carton of eggs or package of chicken or fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm not being argumentative, just trying to figure out if it's a straight line or a curve that should govern various food products.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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...I'm just saying that the cupboards would be pretty bare (and boring) if they banned anything that is potentially hazardous.

It's not really a question of banning something that's hazardous to our health.

I just have this crazy idea and expectation that the food that's being sold to me shouldn't come pre-contaminated.

And if it is contaminated, why is the US government allowing them to continue selling knowingly contaminated products in the marketplace?

What I find most unbelievable about ConAgra is that they said "We can't trace the contamination."

As a quick aside, the state of California may be trying to come up with a method of tracking produce due to the past incidents of contaminated spinach grown in the state.

So why not give every farmer a unique UPC bar code? Whenever produce/livestock are moved off that farm and into the food supply, that UPC bar code goes with the product.

When that produce/livestock is processed with other produce/livestock, the UPC bar code goes with it on up the food prep chain all the way until it reaches the consumer.

Is this doable? I think it can be.

It's beats the hell out of ConAgra just shrugging their corporate shoulders. :hmmm:

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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It's not really a question of banning something that's hazardous to our health.

I just have this crazy idea and expectation that the food that's being sold to me shouldn't come pre-contaminated.

And if it is contaminated, why is the US government allowing them to continue selling knowingly contaminated products in the marketplace?

I think the viewpoint comes down to personal lines on this one. If you get something unpleasant from your eggs or chicken or produce it was probably there when you bought it. So it kinda is a question of banning something that's potentially hazardous to our health or not banning it. The question, in my opinion, is do they pick and choose what to regulate based on popularity or do they go with a blanket all-or-nothing policy? Ideally, they solve the problem... but providing the necessary information to insure your safety if you choose to buy it is better than nothing. It doesn't fix the problem but it puts the choice of whether or not to risk it in the consumers hands. If enough people say "yeah, we know you told us how to make it safe but we're not going to buy it until you fix it", it will suddenly become beneficial in the eyes of their number crunchers to solve the problem.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Between food service, food processing, wholesalers, delivery trucks, and markets, it is amazing that so few people suffer food poisoning. I am not sure if it is that bad bacteria and viruses are so rare, humans have built up immunity to them, or more people than I believe possible are handling food perfectly.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Sure, the risk is higher than ever before but it's more likely that you'll be killed by somebody that's texting while driving than by food poisoning.

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I was listening to a syndicated radio host out of D.C. talking today about a suspected bout of food poisoning who admitted that he had eaten a Lean Cuisine chicken entree that was still cold in spots, but he didn't want to take the time to heat it to the proper temperature.

Guess he lost a little more weight than he planned that night.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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  • 4 weeks later...

I feel there has to be some sort of reasonableness test. (I know, that's impossible.) I remember buying a frozen meal at some point that had raw, as opposed to precooked, shrimp in it. The instructions specifically said the product had to be heated until x degrees and until the shrimp were pink. In that case the shrimp were intentionally frozen raw so they wouldn't be rubbery after heating. Similarly, things like breaded chicken strips vary by brand. The more "processed" nuggets usually say Fully Cooked on the package and give microwave and regular oven instructions, while the higher end "strips of breast meat" tenderloins don't say Fully Cooked on them, and instead say to cook to a certain internal temperature and only give regular oven instructions. Again, I'm assuming the less processed chicken tenders are frozen undercooked for quality purposes, so the won't be dry upon reheating.

So with something like chicken pot pies, as long as the package doesn't say Fully Cooked on it and gives instructions to heat to a certain temperature, that would make me assume there was something uncooked in there that needed to be heated to a certain temp.

I know in the real world people don't always read the instructions, etc, but really, if a package says Chicken Pot Pie on it and the instructions say to cook until 160 to make sure the chicken is fully cooked through (even if the true intention is to kill salmonella that may be lurking in, say, the crust), I don't think the manufacturer is to blame there.

Of course there should be regulations, and maybe they need to be stricter than they are now. I don't know enough about the facts right now. But I don't think the manufacturer is to blame if consumers don't follow the instructions, as long as the package clearly states the products needs to be cooked through. For example, in this recent case with the Nestle Toll House raw cookie dough, while I understand why Nestle is issuing the recall, I don't really think they should be to blame. Cookie dough contains raw eggs, and that can make you sick. Even as a kid I knew that. When we swiped homemade raw cookie dough out of the mixing bowl, we weren't going to sue the egg farmers if it made us sick. We made that decision to take our chances.

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I also wanted to add that I feel like situations like the dog food recall and peanut recall are slightly different. In those cases I think that the problem was more that the existing rules weren't being enforced, rather than the rule itself wasn't good enough.

In the peanut situation, the plant itself was highly unsanitary and had many code violations. The rules for sanitary peanut processing were already in place; one company wasn't following them. In the dog food situation, the food was contaminated with aflatoxin, something that wasn't suppose to be in it in the first place. In my mind, there is a difference between toxins that you wouldn't expect to find in a particular food (and aren't allowed anyway, though enforcement may be lax) versus something like salmonella in chicken/egg products or e coli in ground beef. In the latter case, I don't care if the company can trace every single chicken or cow in the food chain, you still need to cook that stuff through.

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