Supermarket chain pulls soup after family says it found needle

Monday, January 30th 2006, 2:58 pm
By: News On 6

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ A supermarket chain pulled thousands of cans of soup from store shelves in six states after a customer reported finding a rusty needle in a sealed can of minestrone over the weekend.

It was at least the fourth report in the past two weeks of food tampering at supermarkets in the Lehigh Valley, a densely populated region that includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

The soup, Progresso Vegetable Classics Minestrone, was purchased Saturday at a Giant Food Store in Wind Gap. Company spokesman Dennis Hopkins said cans of Progresso minestrone have been removed from all 255 of the chain's stores as a precaution. He said the chain was also increasing its undercover security until further notice.

David King, who bought the soup, said his wife was about halfway finished her portion when she spotted the inch-long sewing needle in the bowl. King immediately called the store, and gave the needle, the lid and the can to a store manager.

The couple worries the soup might have been contaminated.

``At this point, we're just playing wait and see, and hopefully nothing will come of it,'' said King, 44, who works at the Sanofi-Pasteur pharmaceutical company. ``We're just lucky that nobody swallowed it, that we found it before it got into somebody's stomach.''

The region's first case of food tampering was reported Jan. 17, when employees of a King's Supermarket in Bethlehem found straight pins in two packages of ground beef and a ham. The same day, a customer said he found a straight pin in an onion he had purchased from the store.

Last week, a customer at a Giant supermarket near Bethlehem reported finding a rusty sewing needle in a loaf of bread.

The Food and Drug Administration has joined local authorities in the investigation.

Bethlehem police Detective Scott Felchock, who called his counterpart in Wind Gap on Monday, said he's not sure whether any of the incidents are related. But he advised shoppers to be mindful of what they are buying.

``You don't you don't want to take a metal detector every time you go shopping, but it's best to be aware,'' Felchock said.

The cases involving fresh food might be the work of a single individual _ perhaps a disgruntled employee or customer _ or copycats, said packaging expert Jack Rosette, who teaches law enforcement agencies how to detect product tampering.

He said the needle found in the soup can most likely found its way into the can during the manufacturing process or after it was taken home by the customer.

King acknowledged that some people might think he and his wife put the needle in the soup themselves hoping for a big payday, but he insisted that is not the case.

``We're not suing anybody. We're not out to get anything,'' he said.

General Mills Inc. spokeswoman Marybeth Thorsgaard said the company is working closely with the FDA, Giant and the customer. She declined to identify where the soup was canned.

``We can assure consumers that this is the only report of its kind in the country,'' she said. ``This is an isolated incident. This is one consumer call.''

Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant, owned by the Dutch food company Ahold Ltd., operates supermarkets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York and Ohio, under the names Giant Food Stores, Tops Markets and Martin's Food Markets.

King's is owned by Weis Markets, which operates 157 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia.