ConAgra Recalls Pot Pies Because Nobody Uses Their Microwave Properly

ConAgra is voluntarily recalling their pot pies while they rewrite vague cooking instructions that led 160 people in 31 states to contract salmonella. ConAgra’s current packaging orders hungry consumers to microwave their pot pies until cooked thoroughly, an instruction most consumers can’t follow.

It is relatively easy to figure out when a hamburger is well done by checking to see that it is no longer pink. But it’s preposterous to expect consumers to know how the cooking power of their microwave compares with others.

Some have more watts than others, and the makers of ready-to-cook products expect you to know the difference.

For instance, the Banquet pot-pie instructions tell consumers to microwave the pie on high for four minutes if they have medium- or high-wattage microwaves, and six minutes if they have low-wattage microwaves. It says ovens vary, so cooking time “may need to be adjusted.”

“Even if I have a 1,000-watt microwave, how do I know if it’s high, medium or low?” said Douglas Powell, an associate professor and scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University.

ConAgra is the de-romanticized corporate incarnation of America’s bread-basket, controlling both generic and name-brands. The recalled 7 oz pot pies were sold under the following brand names: Banquet, Albertson’s, Food Lion, Great Value, Hill Country Fare, Kirkwood, Kroger, Meijer and Western Family. Affected pies bear a batch number on the side packaging reading either P-9, or Est. 1059. Consumers can return the recalled munchables to the store for a refund.

Did Your Microwave Nuke the Bacteria? [NYT]
(Photo: Brymo)

Comments

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  1. Galls says:

    The mystery of the Microwave. Burn your mouth on one bite, break your teeth on a rock hard ice cube the next bite.

  2. Rando says:

    It shouldn’t have salmonella in the first place.

  3. artki says:

    > “Even if I have a 1,000-watt microwave, how do I know if it’s high, medium or low?”

    Because when you shopped for your microwave you saw lots of models in the store. They all had the wattage prominently displayed. You could see ovens with 600 watts, 750 watts and 1100 watts. You could probably figure out which ovens had the largest and smallest wattage. Hint. The largest numbers are “high” and the lowest are “low”.

    Snarking aside, I agree that cooking instructions for microwaves need improvement. But, if those potpies need freaking STERILZATION before eating, maybe they shouldn’t make them that way.

  4. EvilSquirrel says:

    What they need to do is switch to precooked chicken. I bet they are using raw chicken in these things currently and there is always a risk of salmonella if you consume raw chicken. Most ready-to-eat meats already precook their products for this same reason.

  5. FishingCrue says:

    Sounds like natural selection in action to me. If you’re eating frozen chicken pot pie and you can’t figure out if it’s cooked enough not to kill you is a warning label or recall really the answer?

  6. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    Here’s an idea: give instructions for cooking it in the oven.

  7. tedyc03 says:

    Wait…microwaves are for cooking things? I personally use something called a STOVE and and OVEN to cook food…my microwave is useful for things like reheating already cooked food or melting ice on the chicken I plan to BAKE. I’ve NEVER cooked an entire meal that WASN’T ALREADY COOKED using a microwave. That sounds absurd to me.

  8. HalOfBorg says:

    Someone’s never heard of frozen pizza. Or microwave popcorn……

  9. cedarpointfan says:

    Ewww Banquet.

  10. HalOfBorg says:

    “It shouldn’t have salmonella in the first place”
    While I agree – the simple fact is that our food is NOT sterile. The world is a dirty place, same goes for animals and plants. Bug & microorganisms are everywhere. That “pure mountain stream” you see in commercials? They don’t show you the herd of goats upstream taking a leak in it.

    My son eats a LOT of those pot pies. Whe have a couple in freezer. We nuke ‘em good and nobody gets sick.

    Remember Jack in the Box? E Coli in hamburgers. If the stupid place hadn’t turned their cooking temp down to save money nobody would have gotten sick.

  11. HungryGrrl says:

    I don’t ever ‘cook’ in the microwave either. I only reheat leftovers, make nachos, melt chocolate or butter for baking, or occasionally defrost food in the microwave.

    Pot pie in the microwave? How on earth could that be good? (I’ve found from my past experiences that anything bread or pastry like in the microwave becomes rubber as soon as it begins to cool). How on earth could something that big and dense be fully cooked in 7 minutes anyways?? I know they take a while (like 45 minutes!) to bake in the oven, but if you’re so pressed for time, make a friggin sandwich!

  12. HalOfBorg says:

    Since you’ve never tasted one, don’t tell the rest of us that they’re no good.

    These are not “big and dense”. These are small, single person things.

  13. ptkdude says:

    The potpies DO have instructions for cooking them in a regular oven. I have 2 of these in the fridge, and never even thought of cooking them in the micro (bread + microwave = BLECH). I’m still tempted to eat them. If you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know I died from the salmonella despite using a regular oven.

  14. bsankr says:

    i don’t have a microwave… but i do have a clock that occasionally cooks shit.

  15. hemaphore says:

    not having a microwave either, i notice things cook much more evenly in a standard oven or toaster oven vs. a microwave.
    i understand the whole convenience factor but if it comes down to irradiating my food and hoping the inside is cooked vs. waiting 15-20 more minutes and knowing its cooked all the way through, i’ll wait.

  16. @HalOfBorg: I’ve tasted them. Tasted more than one of them, actually, and my main quibble is that they’re so completely loaded with salt, its nearly unpalatable. Like eating chicken-flavored seawater.

    As for the bread=rubber thing, the crust on these pies is more like cracker-texture. Definitely NOT anything like bread.

    I will say, Bisquick has an extremely easy, tasty chicken pot pie recipe that is probably a bit less heart-attack inducing and a lot tastier (I use reduced sodium cream of chicken). It takes about an hour including prep and cook-time, and you get a lovely crust to dig into.

  17. Roundonbothends says:

    I wouldn’t say not heart-attack-inducing, but some of the pot pies DO microwave rather nicely. They seem to have solved the problem of the bread not browning or coming out rubbery by the little microwave shields in the cook-in-the-box packaging. A Pepperidge Farms turkey-potpie takes about 8 minutes in an 1100-watt microwave and is quite done and tasty indeed. And this is compared to about 45 minutes in the oven.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    One thing that a lot of people have been missing is the fact that most people who buy ready to eat meals are office workers who need something fast and easy. How many of us know the exact wattage and cooking power of the microwaves at work and how manyy people have toaster ovens and/or ovens at work?

  19. Jetfire says:

    First of all, the chicken is precooked. I checked a box (not Banquet), second ingredient: cooked white meat chicken.

    If you use your microwave enough, you should get a feel for how long something is going to take. I’ve heated pot pies before, the center is always cold, unless you let it sit long enough or dump it out on a plate and stir it and microwave again.

    Just like not overdosing your kids on cough syrup, follow the directions and use your head.

  20. RottNDude says:

    -1 for inflammatory headline. The issue at hand is salmonella-tainted food, not a lesson in proper microwave use. It’s obviously a big enough issue that several people were hospitalized and the offending product was recalled. Who writes this crap?

  21. swalve says:

    @Jetfire: I agree- If it says cooked, the reasonable assumption is that if is has been cooked it will be free of harmful bacteria. (Or the bacteria will be dead from having been properly cooked.)

    Others are correct- this is a failure of food safety at the ConAgra plant in the first place.

  22. SOhp101 says:

    @HalOfBorg: The problem with e.coli contamination is not necessarily the presence of bacteria but the toxins they produce. It was likely the improper storage/handling that caused the whole debacle, not improper cooking.

    Like EvilSquirrel stated, they should switch to precooked chicken. Even having a high wattage oven gives no guarantee of even, full cooking and this is why almost all ‘convenience foods’ that have pork in them come with it already precooked.

  23. timmus says:

    “Investigators questioned the family for weeks about what they had eaten but did not zero in on the likely cause until this week: Banquet-brand chicken and turkey pot pies.”

    No kidding… Banquet is so bad that it will do you in even if you cook it properly.

  24. veronykah says:

    @MissJ: Um, can’t you just stick a knife in the middle to determine if its hot? Or even CUT the pie open? You don’t have to know your microwaves wattage, touch your food.
    As far as microwaving pot pies, I’ve found if you want to eat something like this quick it works great to microwave it to COOK the insides [HOW I do this without knowing the wattage of my microwave, not sure. But it works for me somehow] THEN putting it into the toaster oven to make the breading all nice and toasty.
    Works great and is a lot faster than just the oven alone.

  25. HungryGrrl says:

    @HalOfBorg: Hey I’ve eaten Pepperidge Farm pot pies before! I’ve just always cooked them in the oven.

    They are too salty, and the crust is flavorless. And there’s not a lot of meat in them. The Willow Brook pies are much better… and I think they’re in foil pans, which prevents them from being able to be microwaved.

  26. OnceWasCool says:

    I just think ConAgra is doing a smokescreen thing here. They are blaming the microwave cooking instead of their own nastiness. Salmonella should NOT be in the pot pie! Even if I wanted to suck on it like a Popsicle, it shouldn’t make me sick.

    The problem is ConAgra, always has been. This time they didn’t wait six months before they were forced to tell us. (like they did with Peter Pan)

    I guess some of it comes from hiring illegal aliens that still wipe their butts with their fingers.

  27. abz_zeus says:

    Had the same problem in UK
    Solution:
    Microwave now have power ratings A B C D E
    cooking instructions are now for A, For B, for C
    If you don’t get that….

  28. FLConsumer says:

    I’m with the some of the others who said that Salmonella doesn’t belong in the food in the first place. If they’d use cleaner (read: higher cost) chicken farms, stopped the production lines a bit more frequently to clean them (read: higher cost), redesigned the production line to reduce contamination (read: higher cost), then they might be able to avoid this sort of thing. However, large corporations (esp. agricultural) don’t see this as helping their bottom line, and would much rather do these recalls instead, which end up costing more than good sanitary practices. Just ask the recently-defunct Topps Meat.

  29. FLConsumer says:

    @abz_zeus: I wonder how they handle/rate the variations in ways that different microwaves heat food. Some of the higher-end inverter-based microwaves do a VERY good job of evenly and thoroughly heating food, while the cheapies are lucky to even have turntables in them.

  30. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @oncewascool:
    Please keep your comments on-topic — i.e., chicken pot pies and salmonella, not gross overgeneralizations about immigrants’ hygiene.

  31. EtherealStrife says:

    This smells like bs. If the meat is precooked (fully) there should be no risk of salmonella.
    I agree that people can be morons when it comes to their microwaves, but any meat going in the microwave should always be precooked.
    @oncewascool: illegal != mentally impaired

  32. Consumer007 says:

    Maybe we need some food chemists to weigh in, but to be fair to ConAgra, we are assuming that there was consistent freezing the whole time before they were put in the microwave. Is it possible some or all of these folks let the pot pies semi or completely thaw before re-freezing, thereby creating the salmonella mold?

  33. Televiper says:

    Microwaves should really have a real number applied to the power rating you’re cooking them at. People would learn to work with a unit of microwave power just as they’ve learned to work with the C/F numbers on their stove. This isn’t ancient times when we measured things with out body parts. Give us absolute numbers.

  34. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @veronykah: Uh, microwaves don’t cook from the inside out. I saw them do a test on Mythbusters to this exact point. They may cook on a slightly different concept than your conventional oven, but they cook the food the same way.

    And unless you are cooking something you made yourself from ingredients you can be 99% sure are not contaminated, you should OVER cook everything, and then wait for it to cool. I wait until my hot pockets start leaking before I pull them, and I then know the insides are hot. And if I do bite in, and taste a cool part, back in the microwave it goes.

  35. MrEvil says:

    I think the real problem here is that ConAgra’s manufacturing facilities somehow managed to taint the pot pies during packaging. Most all frozen microwave entrees are fully cooked and then placed in the tray and frozen. So there is an assumption that when your food was packaged its not tainted and that you’re merely re-heating something that was already cooked. Mind you it takes temperatures in excess of 212 degree fahrenheit to fully kill Salmonella, hence why when you can your own meat you have to do it in a pressure canner.

  36. papa_panda says:

    I love pot pies, I always get Marie Callender’s, and I cook them in the microwave. I get the big ones and I think they say 8:30 – 13 minutes, depending on wattage, but I wasn’t sure what the wattage was, so I tweaked around with how long I cook it for, and experience tells me 11 minutes. That’s what you have to do with a microwave. You have to figure out how long it takes for whatever you are heating up. Not all microwaves are the same, that’s why the directions are always vague.

    And to the kids who don’t use microwaves to cook, the marie callender’s pot pies come out as good as if I were cooking it in a regular oven. The crust is great. not gross at all. And I never heat up bread in the microwave. EVER.

  37. ShadowFalls says:

    Why don’t microwaveable products share a standard? They should have direction as per a certain wattage microwave, then mention to adjust time accordingly.

    Their excuse regardless is bad, they are not willing to take responsibility for the content of their product, just blaming it on consumers.

    When should you cook something till? How does a person really know if it has been cooked thoroughly enough, only takes one small part of it to infect you.

    Seriously though, any food you can microwave, tastes better from the oven.

  38. Jean Naimard says:

    The microwave oven is a wonderful tool. Like any tools, when used properly, it can do wonders, and if used improperly, well, it does disasters.

    There is no mystery in a microwave oven; the principle is very simple: it excites the water molecules, which makes the water hotter. By conduction, the hot water molecules will heat what is next to them. Since all the water molecules within the food are heated at the same time, rather than heating the food from the outside in, microwave ovens will cook food much faster.

    The trick is to allow for the heat to transfer from the water to the rest of the meal; hence the admonition to let the food rest for several minutes before eating. This prevents the frozen bite right after the zizzling one.

    Also, microwaves are not distributed evenly inside the oven; this is why they almost all have rotating platens to expose as much as possible volume of the food to the microwaves. Despite that, the distribution is not even, particularly in heterogenous foods where some drier parts will not heat as much as the moister ones, hence again the admonition to let the food rest before eating it.

    Better yet, it is possible with the judicious use of metals (which are a no-no in a microwave) to further heat several parts of the food than with that the “inboard” water offers; up here, there are several lines of excellent pot-pies that come in special plastic dishes with metal inprints in them that will cook the relatively drier dough and yield a perfectly crispy pot pie instead of a soggy one.

  39. creativecstasy says:

    Marie Calender’s pot pies are fantastic. I buy ‘em on sale for no more than $2.50 each, and it’s a filling meal with both chicken and veggies. However, I have NEVER managed to get the entire crust to cook. I always end up throwing away the bowl with the bottom crust still inside. No matter if it’s a microwave at home, school, or work, the insides are hot, the top is crisp, and the bottom is still doughy.

    But they’re still better than Banquet, and not just because they lack salmonella.

    /rant

  40. olegna says:

    Food that *requires* a nuking of heat in order to kill harmful microbes? (Shudder.) Interestingly, many chefs say that pork can usually be undercooked nowadays (at least in the “developed world”) because salmonella in undercooked pork is a rarity and people exaggerate the risks. I’ve eating pork rare in several occasions (I like meat cooked rare, not “murdered” as they say in France) without any trouble. (I wouldn’t do this with chicken unless you raised it yourself in a nice clean coop! They eat a lot of fowl rare in France and nobody seems to be getting ill.)

    So, I guess the moral if this story is to avoid factory processed ready-to-eat food, which I generally avoid anyway due to the high sodium content in teevee dinners, canned soups, pot pies, etc.

  41. pkrieger says:

    I would hazard a guess to say there is a large percentage of products on the market that have salmonella. But, that doesn’t mean that they are unsafe. Salmonella is a bacteria with a really high minimum infectious dose (the smallest number of germs to cause a disease in half the number of people who comein contact with it) of around 10,000 of the buggers via ingestion. In contrast, E.coli O157:H7 is thought to be around 10. That is why meat processors have a zero-tolerance for O157:H7, and a percentage around 30% for salmonella. If it is cooked remotely close, the risk of illness is very low. So ConAgra was right in saying they were recalling the product because it had confusing directions that made people sick, and not because it had Salmonella.

  42. Dibbler says:

    This is another reason which promotes the process of irradiating food. I’m just amazed by how much food is recalled every year and the last couple years have been really high. If the media could be convinced to tell people the truth and not try to scale people into thinking the government is putting plutonium into the food supply we’d be so much better off.

    Of course the recent article about how we need to eat more “poop” makes me think that we need the salmonella in there to “toughen us up” a bit. A couple days on the toilet is good for you, I guess… ;-)

  43. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: Ummm I guess you have never worked around Illegals. From my experiance and my friends they do not have the same level of hygine by far. It was pretty common when my wife was in high school 4 years ago for them to be sent home because they stunk. I personally try to not eat out here in so-cal because 99% of the resturants use them. Its not a gross generalization if its true..

  44. FLConsumer says:

    @pkrieger: The other reason for the O157-H7 e.coli to be feared are the severe consequences from it. You’re not only looking at just diarrhea, you’re looking at kidney failure + death in some cases.

    @Nemesis_Enforcer: FWIW, the French and Germans (particularly the older generations) tend to “stink” as well. BUT, they have fewer cases of food poisoning in those countries than we do (and that includes factoring in population size differences). The French don’t even pasteurise some of their foods for which America has laws mandating such practices be used. There’s a growing body of evidence which points to America’s germophobia as causing more disease/illness than it is preventing. Combine this with big business’ goal of increased profits and Americans are the conditions become ripe for food poisoning outbreaks such as this.

  45. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @Nemesis_Enforcer:

    Ummm… yes, I have, actually. So you guessed wrong.

    Oncewascool (and now you) made a gross generalization (gross in more ways than one), and I called him/her on it. The comment was off-topic, inflammatory, and xenophobic.

    I know people have pet issues but off-topic rants are inappropriate. No threadjacking allowed.

  46. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @FLConsumer: I am aware of the penchant for older Europeans to smell less than fresh. I lived in Germany for over 3 years. Yet I would still trust a European to prepare my food a lot more than I would a illegal here in the states. I actually enjoyed the food in europe a ton more than I do here. It was always fresh and prepared without preservatives or the ton of dye’s and crap we put in our food to give the apperance of freshness. I never once got food poisoning in Europe 3 days after returning to the states I got it from an Indian resturant that was actually using illegals to cook and clean…WTF?

  47. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: Not thread jacking, ever been to a slaughterhouse that uses illegals? Well I have my friend worked at one, the quality and safety of meat prepared in the US is being degraded because too many companies hire illegals and don’t care about safety in the name of $. Illegals will work for a lot less than a US worker and usually do not know or follow correct safety and cleanliness procedures. Which is only exagerated by the companies failing to train and enforce correct procedures.

    Pointing out one of the contributing factors is part of the thread even if you might not like the subject. While I recognize that they are many, many other factors. I do belive this is something we can correc that will also help out in other area’s of the country.

  48. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @Nemesis_Enforcer:

    Extremely anecdotal “evidence” you have there, Nemesis_Enforcer. Does any of it relate to the post? Did your friend work for ConAgra?

    EVERYONE needs to observe proper food handling practices. I can buy mayonnaise that’s perfectly safe, but if I leave the opened jar unrefrigerated long enough, I can create my own little salmonella farm. If I fail to wash my hands after a trip to the bathroom, I can start an E Coli outbreak all by my European-descended self. Assuming that I’m clean because of my ethnicity/immigration status — and assuming that someone else is unclean because of theirs — is incredibly ignorant.

    Again, oncewascool’s comment was inflammatory and xenophobic, and yours, at best, is supported by weak, anecdotal “sound bites.”