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SpaghettiOs, Marie Callender frozen dinners yanked in food recalls, and an agency brawl over beef

June 18, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Time to go check your kitchen cabinets and freezers, folks. Late Thursday night, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a pair of recalls of two beloved grocery products after red flags were raised over processing problems and food safety concerns.

ConAgra Foods, maker of the Marie Callender's brand of cheesy chicken and rice frozen meals, is recalling all of the product after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was a possible link between the meals and salmonella outbreaks in 14 states. Twenty-nine people have fallen ill; eight of them reportedly ate the meals in April or May.

ConAgra said in a statement that it was recalling its meals -- which are sold nationwide -- that are labeled "Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken and Rice White Meat Chicken and Broccoli over Rice Topped with Rich Cheddar Sauce," no matter what the production date, which is stamped on the product's package.

Spaghetti (This, by the way, isn’t the first high-profile recall for ConAgra: In 2007, its Peter Pan brand peanut butter was tied to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states, and its Banquet pot pies were connected to more than 400 salmonella cases in 41 states.)

And Campbell Soup Co. said it was recalling 15 million pounds of SpaghettiOs with meatballs, after a cooker failed to work properly at one of the company's Paris, Texas, processing plants. As a result, some of the beef and noodles may have been undercooked, the company said.

The company also said in a statement that because the cans weren't properly heated, they could be prone to bacterial growth or spoilage.

So far, there have been no reports of illnesses connected to consumers eating certain lots of three different varieties of SpaghettiOs: SpaghettiOs with Meatballs in 14.75-ounce cans; SpaghettiOs A to Z with Meatballs in 14.75-ounce cans; and SpaghettiOs Fun Shapes with Meatballs (Cars) in 14.75-ounce cans.

Consumers should look for a mark on the can that says "EST 4K" and for expiration dates between June 2010 and December 2011. Campbell's said that consumers who bought the recalled product can return it to the grocery store where it was purchased for a full refund.

Separately, there's a brewing brouhaha between Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, and the USDA over imported beef products from Brazil.

Earlier this week, the group sent a letter to the USDA's inspector general that called for an investigation into why the agency hadn’t recalled such imported beef products. In early May, the group found evidence of such meat being contaminated with residues of the veterinary drug ivermectin, an anti-parasitic agent.

The group's discovery later led to the USDA to suspend Brazilian imports of processed beef on May 27, pending a review of that country's residue testing program.

But, according to the group, "the agency has failed to call for a recall of the products that entered the United States before the imports were halted. Because the products in question are canned meats, they are likely still on store shelves."

The letter -- and the concerns it raises -- come just two months after an internal probe by the USDA inspector general found serious flaws with the agency's food safety inspection system that was designed to keep drug or chemical residues out of meat products.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo credit: Associated Press

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