This Pot Pie Could Kill You

Frozen Meals Food Safety

August 21, 2013   26 Comments

In my local paper, there was a scary story about a pot pie driving around town with a sawed-off shotgun.

Actually, the story was about a baby moose running around in a children’s playground - I live in a small town.

Accuracy aside, there was a BIG story in 2007 about Con Agra’s outbreak of salmonella in its pot pies that sickened 15,000 people - yikes! No deaths were reported from the outbreak, but it was still scary.

Con Agra cleaned up its plant and changed its cooking instructions to help people better cook their pot pies in order to make sure that they killed all possible contaminants:

I saw this great video on the New York Times about the instructions here: Pot Pie Confidential and decided to try cooking a pot pie myself.

The first part of the instructions (slit crust) is impossible because it is frozen. Try it and see what happens to your knife.

Number two was also difficult because I have a microwave that someone gave me. I am sure the instruction booklet is in a landfill somewhere and I have no idea if my microwave cooks at 1100 watts.

Number four was the fun part because I do have a digital thermometer (again, someone gave me one) and I could poke the pot pie as many times as I wanted. I found what Michael Moss found. Some of the pot pies was over 165F and some of it was about 155 F.

Huh.

How many of us take the time to really read the directions or poke our pot pies?

Now it is 2013, and in April there was another recall from the USDA. This time it was an E. Coli contamination in cooked frozen mini meals - Schwan’s mini meatball sandwiches, quesadillas, etc. - see 10.5 Million Pounds Recalled.

My advice is to stay away from frozen meals because they are loaded with sodium (and they don’t taste very good). If you do eat them, cook them following the directions. Pay attention!

You shouldn’t be afraid of your food.

What do you think of our food safety issues? Are you concerned?

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First 20 Comments: [ see all 26 ]

Scary stuff out there. Thanks for keeping me informed!

on August 21, 2013

Or if you prefer a slow painful death, eat them regularly. The saturated fat will do you in.

on August 21, 2013

Scary points, especially not being able to slit the top as instructed because it's frozen. FYI I'm wondering if the wattage of your microwave is written on it somewhere in small print. I just checked mine and it's on a sticker on the inside front. (It's also only 1000W, which explains our observation that it takes a long time to cook anything despite being a fairly large one.)

on August 21, 2013

A happy day it was when I tossed frozen meals that had been sitting in my freezer for days / weeks / months perhaps. I finally got over the guilt of throwing food away but I know it was for the best.

on August 21, 2013

Exactly! No one knows the wattage of their microwaves!

on August 21, 2013

As a dietitian I recommend Healthy Choice meals as an option to clients who are seeking something quick, easy, and surely better than fast food. Add fruit and vegetables to round out the meal.

According to FDA regs, the word "healthy" on a food package indicates it is low fat, i.e., </=3 grams fat per 100 calories of food. Also it has </=600 mg sodium per meal, which is considered moderate. It is recommended that healthy people under age 50 consume less than 2400 mg sodium daily. One way to keep track is to have a limit of 600 mg per meal, 200 mg per snack.

Of course, fresh food prepared at home is best:)

on August 21, 2013

Since most people prepare their foods at work (I know we have a freezer here at work filled with frozen entrees)who knows what the watts are in those microwaves. Ours is so old that you can't see any stickers on the microwave that would even indicate the watts if it was listed! I used to eat smart ones all the time and I stopped due to sodium and they were never really filling to begin with! I would urge anyone to proceed with caution!

on August 21, 2013

I think step 1 is to stop referring to this processed crap as "food" or a "meal." I call it toxic nonfood, and have my kids now able to identify a toxic nonfood. The food industry gets me enraged more than anything else these days - they've taken a basic human need and turned it into a minefield of chemicals, e coli, animal torture, and transfats - and the government is HELPING them to do this to us! GRRRR it makes me SO MAD!

on August 21, 2013

Goody I am so with you!! Make your own potpies [its fun and satisfying], meatballs, etc. The most important thing we can do for our family is feed them, their bodies and minds. Teach them what is food and what is not! I can only find 1 real food in the freezer case--organic vegetables! [please correct me if anyone knows of other real food in their store's frozen section!] My safety concerns are knowing my sources, washing produce and fruits, and maintaining a sanitary kitchen.

on August 21, 2013

You want scarry....the FDA has approved the use of so many chemicals in our food that are known to cause cancer....nothing in this world of food, unless it's organic, is safe to eat...frozen or not! So frustrating....the FDA is supposed to protect us so why is this allowed?

on August 21, 2013

Not everyone can prepare home made food all of the time. Like those of us on a budget with full times jobs and 3 year olds alone. I really don't think eating one Lean Cusine a day at lunch at my office is a bad thing. It seems people are always bashing frozen meals. As long as you add it fruits, vegetables, protein and natural grains to the rest of your diet I believe you are fine.

on August 21, 2013

Agreed Jen. Things like Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine meals can be helpful and can be included as PART of a healthy eating plan when balanced with many other healthy food choices/whole foods. These are portion/calorie controlled and offer can be a good option in a pinch. The concern with preparation method and food safety however is another story. Always be sure to follow preparation instructions,heat through thoroughly and consume immediately.

on August 21, 2013

Microwave ovens can vary SO greatly. I still have the original one I bought in the 1980's (!) and it works fine, but is only 700 watts, so I must really pay attention to cooking times.

on August 21, 2013

The person who wrote this article sounds like a democrat. Blame the manufacturer of a product because YOU, the consumer, do not take the time to read the instructions provided to ensure the food is cooked properly to reach the "safe" temperature. That's like the parents that leave their kid unattended in a bumbo seat on top of a table & try to place blame on the manufacturer when their kid falls off because they didn't take the time to read instructions on a product they chose to purchase. I say the author should make their own pot pie & eat it :)

on August 21, 2013

I think I'm awfully glad I am a vegetarian and don't get exposed to as much risk of salmonella poisoning as chicken and pork eaters.

on August 21, 2013

I am not a medical professional but I do exercise common sense which tells me it is never healthy to eat frozen store-bought meals. Case in point-- http://thestir.cafemom.com/food_party/151094/lean_cuisine_dinners_recalled_after
And it was laughable and shocking to watch ''pot pie confidential''.
We all make our own choices regarding how we spend our time. There seems to be more options/ideas today than when I raised 2 kids and worked a demanding FT job for 35 years. For me, homemade is healthier because you control the content, a little extra covers the next days' lunch or a handy frozen portion for another day. I find whole food much more budget-friendly than boxed, bagged or frozen and much more satisfying. I'm inspired to always keep abreast of our U.S. food dilemma through Snack Girl, Foodbabe, and 100daysofrealfood, and the many bloggers on these sites.

on August 21, 2013

great information.....and something that I was not aware of....will definitely be much more careful regarding how I prep/cook frozen foods in the future. It is too bad that most of the frozen foods are so full of crap ingredients....I dont see why that could not be changed....most frozen vegetables are not that way. I would hope to see a change to healthier ingredients in the future. Im not a good cook and I dont care to cook much since I have been ill. While preparing your own homemade foods is ideal, due to many different circumstances the frozen foods are extremely helpful. I also have a Special Needs son in his thirties and frozen foods help him to be independant since he is not capable of cooking for himself. I dont think I would bash frozen foods....I just wish they were healthier. Thanks for this great post.

on August 21, 2013

there are some super easy recipes to just make your own chicken pot pie! You don't need a frozen one!

on August 21, 2013

Somewhere on your microwave is the information on wattage. On mine, which is a full size microwave, the strip of information is at the top of the door frame visible when I open the door and found that mine is 1000 watts. Others, probably have the info on the back or the bottom of the appliance. I believe it is the law in most places that the appliance has this info stuck to it. If you are still mystified, google your appliance and the wattage can be located this way from the manufacturer. It never ceases to baffle me how much information is available to us on the internet, yet, we sometimes forget that it is right at our fingertips.
I think it is very easy to tell if a frozen item is cooked through enough. I usually cook mine a minute or two longer than it reads on the label to be sure the food is cooked through. There are many healthy frozen foods, we just need to read the labels. If the amount of sodium is half your daily normal intake then it is possible to regulate the other foods eaten for the whole day. For instance, if I eat a high sodium entree, say about half my normal intake of sodium is contained in it, then I eat fruit, or veggies or some other foods low in sodium. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Also, just use a meat or even a candy thermometer if unsure that the frozen item is cooked or not.
Every home should have a food thermometer, in my opinion, to check the doneness of turkeys, roasts, and of course frozen foods or any food that is questionable. They are very inexpensive and worth the price vs. a big doctor bill, time off work, and the general inconvenience.
As for being a vegetarian, one is still not off the hook. Many vegetable recalls should be noted especially the recent outbreak of cylospora in the U.S. that was linked to lettuce. Lettuce of all types are often the culprit. Some time ago apples were found to have E.Coli. (Check FDA website recalls to see what recent outbreaks there are). E.Coli is simply not just found in meat. This warning includes organic veggies too. And recently, I read about an organic farmer who received seedlings and seeds that had pesticide in them ruining his organic standing. He had bought from this supplier for years but when he had his crop tested, it proved that the crop was not organic. As for the apples, these fell to the ground where animals roamed and did their business and contaminated the food chain.
This is why I wash my fruits and veggies well and peel many of them. There are no guarantees even if you grow your own. In most places, a soil sample can be tested for contaminates. Homegrown does not necessarily mean healthy.

on August 21, 2013

The only frozen meal I indulge in is stoffers Mac n Cheese. It is so good on a snowey day after school

on August 21, 2013

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