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ConAgra Sacks Food Safety VP, Says Move Not Related to Salmonella Recalls or Other Safety Issues

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ConAgra announced that it has fired a food safety vice president for violating the company’s employment policy. Paul A. Hall joined ConAgra following the Peter Pan Peanut Butter Salmonella outbreak last year. His dismissal comes just a few months after a second ConAgra product – Banquet Pot Pies – was linked to a yet another massive Salmonella outbreak. ConAgra maintains that Hall’s termination was not related to food safety.

ConAgra hired Hall in April 2007, following the February recall of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters that where produced at ConAgra’s Sylvester, Georgia plant. Those tainted peanut butters were blamed for an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning that sickened more than 600 people. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the Salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened last summer.

In August, ConAgra re-launched Peter Pan, once one of the country’s top-selling peanut butters. The product returned to stores with much fanfare, with ConAgra backing Peter Pan with a 100-percent money back guarantee. Prior to the launch, ConAgra mailed out 2 million coupons for free Peter Pan Peanut Butter, as well as $1-off coupons. ConAgra also redesigned the Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar with a “New Look” label.

But ConAgra’s Peter Pan re-launch was quickly overshadowed by the Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak. ConAgra’s Banquet and store brand pot pies were first linked to dozens of cases of Salmonella poisoning throughout the country on October 9. That day, ConAgra issued a health alert about the Salmonella pot pie outbreak, warning consumers not to eat any of its 7-ounce store brand or Banquet Pot Pies with the codes “P-9” or “Est 1059” on the package. Despite the health alert, ConAgra did not recall the tainted Banquet pot pies. Instead, ConAgra tried to deflect blame for the Salmonella pot pies by claiming that consumers caused the outbreak by failing to cook the pies properly. On October 11, ConAgra finally did issue a pot pie recall.

Ultimately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) traced 272 cases of Salmonella poisoning in 35 states to the tainted ConAgra pot pies. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigation into the Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella outbreak found flaws with record keeping at the Missouri plant that produced the pot pies, as well as deficiencies with ConAgra’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control plan that spells out what the company does to ensure product safety. The ConAgra Banquet Pot Pie Recall ended up costing ConAgra around $30 million.

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