Conagra Brands have been ordered to pay over $7 million to a woman burned by exploding cooking spray.
Tammy Reese of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, suffered severe injuries in 2017 when a can of Conagra-made Swell cooking spray ignited and caused burns while she was working in a social club kitchen. The ruling, issued on Monday, is the first among several pending cases involving burn victims nationwide who experienced similar accidents with Conagra-produced cooking spray brands, including the popular Pam.
In the lawsuit filed on Tammy Reese’s behalf, it was stated that the can of Swell cooking spray “exploded into a fireball, causing burns and injuries,” resulting in deep second-degree burns on her head, face, arms, and hands. Even six years later, scar tissue continues to limit her mobility.
The Cook County Circuit Court ordered Conagra Brands to pay $3.1 million in compensatory damages and an additional $4 million in punitive damages to the victim. Conagra Brands expressed disagreement with the jury’s decision, and their commitment to product safety.
According to one of Reese’s lawyers, there are more than 50 ongoing cases against Conagra from burn victims across the country. The lawsuits relate to spray can models produced between 2011 and 2019, which featured a venting system with a lower heat threshold. When exposed to high temperatures, the vents open, releasing flammable contents into the air.
Consumers can identify vented cooking spray cans by checking for four small U-shaped slits on the bottom of the can, and larger spray cans are more affected than smaller ones. Conagra stated that the vent system had been used on a limited number of cans and had been eliminated during a product redesign unrelated to the lawsuits.
Conagra has maintained that their cooking sprays include clear warning labels on the front and back, cautioning consumers about their flammability and advising against storing them near stoves or heat sources. The company also advises that cooking spray should not be stored above 120 degrees or used near open flames.
This verdict represents a significant development in the ongoing legal battle against Conagra Brands, raising questions about the safety of certain cooking spray products and their potential risks when exposed to high temperatures.