Big Picture Big Sound

Tainted Veggie Booty at Pathmark - Not the Safest Home Theater Snack

By Chris Boylan

Snack Attack

Snack Attack

Though this is not our normal feature here on Big Picture Big Sound, I simply had to share a recent experience we've had with our local Pathmark Foods store (Long Island City, NY) as a cautionary tale.

Last month, our 2-year-old daughter vomited in her sleep. She seemed OK otherwise, and we thought perhaps it was something she ate. So my wife diligently checked out the items the children had eaten, to make sure nothing had passed its expiration date.

She took out our freshly opened bag of "Veggie Booty" - a vegetarian snack that the kids love, and that we had purchased on July 2nd from Pathmark in Long Island City, and she noticed the word "Recall" lightly hand-written in pen on the bag.

Recalled Veggie Booty - bought at Pathmark 5 days after the recall
Veggie Booty with hand-written "recall" note (click image to view close-up).

My wife had found this on the shelf with the other snack foods at our local Pathmark and hadn't noticed the hand-written note on the bag when she put it in her shopping cart (who would?). Now very concerned, she looked up "Veggie Booty Recall" on the web and found that the makers, Robert's American Gourmet, had indeed recalled the product on June 28th and had notified their distributors and customers to pull the product from shelves immediately.

Pathmark receipt - click to view full versionApparently the FDA had had reports of 51 cases of salmonella poisoning (something that can be very serious in young children), and all had been tied to Veggie Booty so they notified the manufacturer about the problem and Robert's American Gourmet acted upon the information ordering a recall. Independent investigation later showed that the seasoning used in the product was indeed contaminated with salmonella.

Meanwhile our daughter had lost all appetite, developed a low-grade fever, some mild diarrhea and continued to vomit anything we fed her for the next two and a half days. We took her into the doctor and luckily they could not find any serious problems. Whatever she had, she seems to have beaten. Her appetite is back, and she's back to her usual happy-go-lucky self.

But what concerns me is that Pathmark identified the food as having been recalled, then put it back on their shelves for sale five days after the recall date. Above is a photo of the bag with the handwritten recall note and also included here is the dated receipt.

We contacted Pathmark and Robert's American Gourmet via their web sites. Both expressed concern for our daughter (which was nice). But what I learned about Pathmark's processes for handling recalls was a little unsettling. Apparently a clerk received the item back, wrote "recall" on the package, and it went into the wrong pile, accidentally ending up back on the shelf. A Pathmark customer service rep informed me that the clerk has undergone "counseling" for the mistake and I was assured "it won't happen again."

But the fact is that leaving something like this to manual processes is dangerous. They had multiple opportunities to prevent or remedy this situation before my daughter got sick:
  • Destroy the item, as required by the manufacturer.
  • Prevent the item from being sold by identifying the UPC code in their point-of-sale system and issuing a warning at the register.
  • Run audit reports daily to make sure no recalled UPCs have been sold, and if they have, then contact the customer directly. They have our full contact information associated with our "Pathmark Valued Customer" card. Needless to say, the phone never rang.
Instead, Pathmark "counsels" the clerk, and what do they send us for our trouble? Two $25.00 gift certificates to shop at Pathmark. Are they kidding me?

The manufacturer's promise to have their "lawyers" get in touch with us never materialized. About a month after the incident, we did get a message from a claims analyst at some insurance company on behalf of Robert's American Gourmet. How wonderfully impersonal.

For now, my advice would be, if you shop at Pathmark, be careful what you buy, and keep an eye out for hand-written recall notes. Or if you're just starting construction of your home theater, make sure the bathroom isn't too far away. You may need it!

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Boylan