- Conagra Brands has voluntarily recalled its Duncan Hines Classic White cake mix, along with three other varieties made during the same time period, because of a positive salmonella test result in a retail sample. The other recalled varieties are Signature Confetti, Classic Butter Golden and Classic Yellow. The company has posted the recalled products' UPC codes and best-if-used-by dates.
- An illness outbreak potentially linked to the cake mix is being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA said its investigators are inspecting the Conagra facility that produced the cake mixes and collecting product and environmental samples. Meanwhile, the CDC is investigating five illnesses with the same DNA fingerprint as the salmonella found in the white cake mix, the FDA said.
- Conagra said several of the individuals sickened reported consuming a cake mix at some point prior to becoming ill, and some may have also consumed these products raw and not baked. The company reminded consumers to never eat raw batter, and that cake mixes and batter can contain eggs or flour with a potential risk of bacteria that is rendered harmless by baking, frying or boiling.
Conagra voluntarily recalled the four varieties of Duncan Hines cake mix because of salmonella concerns, although only the Classic White had a positive salmonella test result. The company said it was doing so "out of an abundance of caution" because all four were made during the same time period.
Duncan Hines very recently joined Conagra's portfolio of brands following its purchase of Pinnacle Foods for approximately $10.9 billion. The deal was seen as adding a variety of well-known snack, frozen and other products to the Conagra family, such as Birds Eye, Hungry-Man, Log Cabin, Vlasic and Wish-Bone.
However, it can't be pleasant for Conagra to have to deal with a recall of a newly acquired brand. Pinnacle has been candid about challenges in moving its grocery products in a competitive environment, and Duncan Hines may have presented one of those challenges.
If Conagra executives perceive the brand as too much of a liability, it could be spun off to another owner or potentially shelved. Pinnacle dropped 16 Aunt Jemina frozen products last year after voluntarily recalling many of them for potential listeria contamination, and while the company said it was planning to do so anyway, it also noted the recall accelerated the move.
While the source of this Duncan Hines-related salmonella contamination is still under investigation, it could have stemmed from a product ingredient, or perhaps the production facility itself. Salmonella has been associated with eggs and dairy products, and flour has been linked to E. coli outbreaks.
A recall of bread and rolls by Flowers Foods this past July, for example, was caused by the possible presence of salmonella in whey powder. A huge recall of General Mills Gold Medal flour in 2016 for E. coli contamination that sickened 63 people and hospitalized 17 prompted numerous downstream recalls since so many other products used it as an ingredient.
Cake mix is heavily ingredients-based, so it's likely to take some time for FDA inspectors to complete their investigations and to then compare notes with their CDC colleagues to narrow down how the salmonella contamination occurred. Depending on the source, there could be additional recalls related to this outbreak, but that remains to be seen.
Regardless of what happens next, though, Conagra seems to have acted quickly and efficiently to deal with the problem. The company voluntarily recalled more product than it needed to given the salmonella sample results, but that's a prudent act for a company that plans to move on and not let a recall tarnish its reputation nor that of its brands going forward.