OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – The USDA allowed ConAgra Foods Inc. to resume making its Banquet and private label pot pies because the company corrected the flaws in its safety plan at its Missouri plant that inspectors found after the pies were linked to a salmonella outbreak.

Those pot pies were recalled last month after hundreds of people who ate them became ill.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Thursday that ConAgra took action to correct the problems inspectors found after the Oct. 11 recall.

ConAgra announced Wednesday that it had resumed making pot pies at the Marshall, Mo., plant, and the company expects the pies to return to stores sometime in January.

USDA spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said details of the inspectors’ findings at the plant would be released only through a formal Freedom Of Information Act request.

Eamich would say only that there was a record-keeping problem and an issue with ConAgra’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan that spells out what the company does to ensure its products are safe.

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said the USDA identified two areas of improvement at the plant that the company addressed.

“Specifically, we improved the record-keeping for how we developed our cooking instructions and improved our testing for incoming ingredients per the USDA’s request,” Childs said. “These measures were put in place prior to resuming production of our pot pies.”

The USDA informed ConAgra about its concerns Oct. 23 in a formal notice. The company developed a plan for reform, which Childs said the USDA orally approved Oct. 31. Production resumed Nov. 1, and written approval of the plan came Nov. 8, she said. USDA inspectors will check on the reforms over the next 90 days.

ConAgra did not mention the formal notice it received from the USDA in its news release Wednesday, but it did mention working with the USDA to improve its safety plan.

ConAgra has not identified the source of the salmonella in the pot pies, but company officials have said they are confident the pies will be safe because of the changes that were made.

Childs said ConAgra is applying the testing improvements made at its Missouri plant at every one of the company’s plants where those changes would apply. For example, Childs said the company plans to use the more stringent testing plan for all of its ingredient suppliers.

Childs said ConAgra won’t identify its ingredient suppliers for the pot pies or any of its foods. And she would not say whether the company uses imported ingredients in its pot pies.

“ConAgra Foods works with both domestic and international companies to source ingredients for all of its products,” Childs said. “For both domestic and international suppliers, ConAgra Foods has put in place measures to ensure the safety of the ingredients that are used in our products, and we have enhanced those measures for all suppliers.”

Imported foods have generated headlines this year because of recalls involving contaminated fish, chemically spiked pet food ingredients, toxic toothpaste and other products.

ConAgra’s stock gained 26 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $23.70 Thursday.

Citigroup analyst David Driscoll said in a research note that he doesn’t believe the pot pie recall will hurt ConAgra long-term.

“We believe the favorable resolution of ConAgra’s Banquet salmonella issue eliminates a number of negative scenarios surrounding the stock,” Driscoll said. The stock price will likely improve, he said, as ConAgra’s restructuring plan moves forward.

But the company still faces several lawsuits related to the recall, which was the second ConAgra recall this year because of salmonella.

Earlier this year, ConAgra recalled all of its peanut butter products when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked its Peter Pan peanut butter to a salmonella outbreak that eventually sickened at least 625 people in 47 states.

The pot pies made by ConAgra have been linked to at least 272 cases of salmonella in 35 states. The CDC said at least 65 people were hospitalized as part of the outbreak, but no deaths have been linked to the pot pies.

Salmonella poisoning can cause diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting. Most cases are caused by undercooked eggs and chicken.

About 40,000 cases are reported each year in the U.S., but the CDC estimates that the actual number of infections may be 30 times higher because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported. Most of the 600 deaths salmonella causes each year are among people with weaker immune systems such as the elderly or very young.



On the Net:

ConAgra Foods Inc.: http://www.conagrafoods.com

Centers for Disease Control Salmonella updates: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service: http://www.fsis.usda.gov

AP-ES-11-15-07 1955EST


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.