Cooking spray burn victim awarded $7.1 million in damages after can ‘exploded into a fireball’

Nov 1, 2023, 10:05 AM

CHICAGO (AP) — A jury in Illinois has ordered Chicago-based Conagra Brands to pay $7.1 million to a Pennsylvania woman who was badly injured in 2017 when a can of commercial brand cooking spray ignited in a kitchen at her workplace and set her aflame.

The verdict, issued Monday in favor of Tammy Reese of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, is the first of numerous other cases from burn victims across the country with similar stories citing accidents that occurred with Conagra-made cooking spray brands, including its popular grocery store brand Pam.

Reese was working at a social club kitchen in May 2017 when “suddenly and without warning” a can of Swell cooking spray “exploded into a fireball, causing burns and injuries,” according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf. She suffered deep second-degree burns on her head, face, arms and hands, and scar tissue continues to constrict her movement six years later, according to one of her lawyers, Craig Smith.

Chicago-based Conagra Brands must pay out $3.1 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages to Reese, according to the Cook County Circuit Court verdict. Conagra Brands is the parent company of Pam and many other high-profile food brands including Marie Callender’s, Reddi-wip, Swiss Miss, Hunt’s, Chef Boyardee and Slim Jim.

The company said in an emailed statement that it disagreed with the jury’s verdict and that the “safety of our products and our consumers is always a top priority of Conagra.”

“We continue to stand by our cooking spray products, which are safe and effective when used correctly, as instructed. We are evaluating our legal options, including appeal,” the statement said.

Smith said there are more than 50 pending cases against Conagra from other burn victims across the country, and that the company has refused to issue a product recall for the “defective” cans.

“This is really the beginning of a serious problem for Conagra,” Peter Flowers, another attorney for Reese, said Tuesday.

The accidents involved spray can models of various brands manufactured between 2011 and 2019 that used a venting system with a lower threshold for heat than previous versions, Smith explained. When the can gets too hot, the vents on the bottom open to release pressure, discharging its very flammable contents into the air, according to the lawsuit.

Consumers can check if their cooking spray cans are vented by looking at whether the bottom of the can has four small U-shaped slits, Smith said. In general, larger spray cans — 10 oz. (0.3 liters) or more — rather than the commonly-sold 6 oz. (0.18 liters) cans are affected, he said.

The cooking spray that exploded near Reese had been stored on a shelf about 18 inches (46 centimeters) above the stove, according to Flowers.

“In a commercial kitchen, that’s a sort of normal place where people leave their cooking spray cans when they’re actually using them. And the same thing has happened all across the country, not necessarily on shelves above stoves, but on shelves near stoves, on countertops,” he said.

In response to similar lawsuits in 2019, Conagra said the vent system was used on a limited number of cans but was eliminated during a product redesign that year. The redesign was not related to the lawsuits and was part of an effort to standardize the company’s cans, Conagra said.

Conagra says Pam and other cooking sprays have clear warning labels on the front and back telling consumers the product is flammable and should not be left on or near a stove or heat source. Cooking spray shouldn’t be stored above 120 degrees or sprayed near an open flame, the company said.


Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

United States News

Associated Press

Cleveland Fed names Goldman Sachs executive Hammack to succeed Mester as president

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Cleveland branch of the Federal Reserve said Wednesday that Beth Hammack, an executive at investment bank Goldman Sachs, would be its next president effective Aug. 21. Hammack, 52, has worked at Goldman Sachs since 1993. She was most recently the cohead of global finance, and has also served as global treasurer […]

22 minutes ago

Associated Press

New Hampshire’s limits on teaching on race and gender are unconstitutional, judge says

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal judge has struck down New Hampshire’s nearly 3-year-old law limiting what teachers can say about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other topics in public schools as unconstitutionally vague. The ruling could revive the topic as an election year campaign issue. Republicans pitched the 2021 law as an anti-discrimination […]

58 minutes ago

Associated Press

Vermont’s Republican governor allows ghost gun bill to become law without his signature

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has allowed a bill to become law that requires serial numbers on firearms that are privately made with individual parts, kits or 3D printers. Scott allowed the bill, part of an effort to crack down on hard-to-trace ghost guns that are increasingly showing up in crimes, to become law […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

2 new giant pandas are returning to Washington’s National Zoo from China by the end of the year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two giant pandas are coming to Washington’s National Zoo from China by the end of the year. The zoo made the announcement Wednesday, about half a year after it sent its three pandas back to China. The number of pandas in American zoos has steadily dwindled as loan agreements lapsed during U.S.-Chinese […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

ConocoPhillips buying Marathon Oil for $17.1 billion in all-stock deal, plus $5.4 billion in debt

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion. The deal is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt. Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. As part of the transaction, Marathon Oil shareholders […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Stock market today: Wall Street points toward losses as markets digest earnings, dealmaking

Wall Street was poised to open with losses on Wednesday as some major dealmaking and a handful of earnings reports fill the news void until Friday’s latest inflation report. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average each tumbled 0.6% before the bell. ConocoPhillips said that it is buying Marathon Oil in […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Cooking spray burn victim awarded $7.1 million in damages after can ‘exploded into a fireball’