Burn injuries can be devastating, and understanding their causes is crucial for prevention. In a recent case, Chicago-based Conagra Brands was ordered by an Illinois jury to compensate a burn injury victim to the tune of $7.1 million. Tammy Reese of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, suffered severe burn injuries in 2017 when a commercial brand cooking spray can spontaneously erupted into flames in her workplace kitchen.
Reese's traumatic ordeal began in May 2017 while she was working in a social club kitchen. Without any prior indication, a Swell cooking spray can burst into flames, inflicting severe burn injuries on Reese. The aftermath of the accident left her with deep second-degree burns across her head, face, arms, and hands. The scar tissue resulting from her burn injuries still impedes her movement, as reported by her attorney, Craig Smith.
The court's verdict mandated Conagra Brands to pay Reese $3.1 million in compensatory damages and an additional $4 million in punitive damages. Notably, Conagra Brands, renowned for owning popular food brands like Pam, Marie Callender’s, Reddi-wip, and Swiss Miss, expressed disagreement with the jury’s verdict. The company emphasized that consumer safety remains paramount and that their cooking spray products are safe when used as directed. The brand is currently contemplating appealing against the verdict.
Craig Smith highlighted that this isn't an isolated incident. Over 50 burn injury cases are currently pending against Conagra, all stemming from similar accidents involving their cooking spray cans. Despite the rising number of burn injury complaints, the company has not initiated a product recall for the allegedly faulty cans.
A significant concern arises from the cooking spray cans produced between 2011 and 2019. These cans incorporated a venting system that was sensitive to heat, leading to a high risk of the contents, which are highly flammable, being discharged if the can overheated. For consumers who want to ensure safety, Smith advises checking for four small U-shaped slits at the bottom of the can. Typically, larger cans (10 oz. and above) are the ones that possess this venting feature.
Reese's burn injury incident involved a cooking spray stored approximately 18 inches above a stove – a common practice in many commercial kitchens. Such incidents aren't confined to Pennsylvania; similar burn injuries due to cooking spray explosions have been reported nationwide.
In a 2019 response to similar lawsuits, Conagra claimed to have eliminated this vent system during a product redesign. They asserted that the redesign was a standardization effort, unrelated to the ongoing burn injury lawsuits. To mitigate burn injury risks, Conagra emphasizes that their cooking sprays, including Pam, carry clear warning labels indicating their flammable nature. The company advises consumers against storing the cans near heat sources or exposing them to temperatures above 120 degrees.
Understanding the causes and implications of burn injuries is critical, and ensuring product safety should always be a priority for manufacturers.