Friday, May 15, 2009

Pot Pies of Death

What with all the news that torture is totally Nancy Pelosi's fault, or of the new Republican spokesperson, Carrie Prejean, this story seems to have gotten lost in the mist. From the New York Times:

"Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. 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.

In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like NestlĂ© and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer.

....government efforts to impose tougher trace-back requirements for ingredients have met with resistance from food industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which complained to the Food and Drug Administration: “This information is not reasonably needed and it is often not practical or possible to provide it.”

Oh, I see. The food companies just cannot sell safe food without endangering their profit. And consumers just don't need to know whether their food is likely to get them sick. So, Mr. Food Eater, out there wherever you are, you're on your own. What? You mean you don't have a food testing laboratory in your house? How stupidly improvident of you.

Well, tough luck if you or your children die. What's more important to you, anyway, your car or a few thousand dollars worth of chemical equipment?

You know, I wonder if most people are aware that there is actually a federal agency that is "responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation."

I kind of wonder if they're doing as good a job on the radiation thing as they are with pot pies. No, on second thought, don't tell me.

Do you think stories like this, from last year, might have anything to do with this problem?

The FDA is now ignoring Congressional subpoenas of its records, setting up another showdown between Congress and the Bush Administration. Unlike former showdowns, national security is not involved. Will the Bush administration offer protection for a situation that involves needless deaths to Americans? The Chinese sentenced to death the head of their FDA for far lesser misdoings."

Well, I'll leave you with one more quote from the NYT article:

But attempts by The New York Times to follow the directions on several brands of frozen meals, including ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies, failed to achieve the required 165-degree temperature. Some spots in the pies heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt."

So, burn your food or die, sucker.

Above: Pot pie, mmm. Hungry yet?


Anonymous said...

Being an occasional consumer of frozen dinners (when they are on sale) and also having worked in product development in the food industry, I noticed an inconsistency in quality control in Con Agra frozen dinners years ago.
I also had a friend who worked for Con-Agra in the late '90's and just hearing about their mindless cost cutting and their culture of treating their employees as costs that need to be eliminated set off red flags in my mind not only about quality, but safety.

There were times when their frozen dinners would be on sale for $1, but I would not take one if you gave it to me for free.
I was convinced that there would eventually be an 'incident' involving food poisoning of some type.

This is the common corporate model.
The game is buying a company or it's stock, then cutting costs/personnel to the point where certain failure is in place in the pipeline, but the profits margins are up (temporarily) and you can cash out, and leave someone else holding the bag when the actual failure occurs.

In my experience MBA's have often been the practitioners of this. What are they teaching in our schools?
(No offense to the OTHER MBA's)

Modern corporate short term greed.
I sure it's happened in almost all industries.
The result is toxic food, toxic financial instruments, inferior service and products, etc.

It's a shame because America has produced and produces some of the finest quality products in the world. We have the resources, the talent and the technology, but greed and lack of regulation and enforcement bring us down.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it's a therapeutic exercise.

Green Eagle said...

You know, my wife has been talking about this for years. What the hell are they teaching these guys in business school, considering that they seem to have all collaborated in driving our economy off a cliff?

The only place I take issue with is your description of their cost-cutting as "mindless." Unfortunately, I suspect they know exactly what they are doing- they just don't care.