This is a public service blog for all readers who currently use an aerosol cooking spray for [checks notes] cooking, and also keep the canister in handy reach of the stove: The contents can, and allegedly will, spew forth a mighty fireball if overheated. That's according to a suite of lawsuits—filed Tuesday in Chicago's Cook County Circuit Court—against the Illinois-based company, Conagra Foods, makers of PAM and Wellsley Farms Cooking Spray.
Among the plaintiffs is Maria Mariani, a Staten Island woman who says her can of Wellsley Farms Cooking Spray spontaneously combusted as she boiled water on April 5th. According to the lawsuit, Mariani "was utilizing the stove, when a canister of Wellsley Farms Cooking Spray placed on the adjacent counter suddenly and without warning began spraying its extremely flammable contents through the u-shaped vents on the bottom of the can and exploded into flames, causing burns to [Mariani] and igniting a fire in the kitchen." According to NBC New York, the conflagration set fire to her hair and clothing, leaving her with severe burns on 30 percent of her skin and a hefty slate of medical expenses to pay for the foreseeable future.
Mariani and her peers blame a can design Conagra adopted in 2011, which uses "u-shaped vents on the domed bottom of the canister that were designed to open when the can buckled or when the bottom of the canister became convex instead of concave," and which could suddenly spray the highly flammable product into the air. Because yes, consider what makes a cooking spray: In addition to a blend of oils, PAM includes propellants—which may contain propane and butane—that help shoot liquid out of the can. (Wellsley Farms may not use propellants, but regardless, it's just oil and an anti-foaming agent.)
Cooking sprays, of course, exist as a means of easily greasing pans and grill tops, and the lawsuit argues that a reasonable person would expect the manufacturer to have foreseen and taken into consideration any possible fire risks before packaging the product and placing it on shelves. Because "the product was designed and advertised to be used around stoves/grills," the lawsuit states, people had no reason to expect that it would maim them in the suggested setting. Mariani's lawsuit alleges negligence and product liability for what she and her fellows see as Conagra's insufficient warnings about the possibility of impromptu infernos, and also about the fire-prone ingredients in the spray.
"When PAM is used correctly, as instructed, it is a 100-percent safe and effective product," Conagra said in a statement to CNN. "All PAM Cooking Sprays include large, clear instructions, warnings, and cautions on both the front and back of the packaging alerting consumers that the product should be used responsibly as it is flammable, and that it should not be left on a stove or near a heat source, should not be sprayed near an open flame, and should not be stored above 120 degrees Fahrenheit."
Conagra had not returned Gothamist's request for comment at time of publication, but seven other people across the country attest to experiences similar to Mariani's. Indeed, a video released by the lawfirm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder—which represents all the complainants—shows a restaurant kitchen turning into a fireball after an employee moves a can of PAM situated near a stove.
"It is beyond irresponsible that, to increase profits, Conagra Brands made and sold cans of household cooking spray that are susceptible to explosion, choosing not to use the safer designs as it had for the last sixty years, and failed to warn consumers about the very serious risks," J. Craig Smith, attorney for all the plaintiffs involved in the case, told CNN in a statement. "Perhaps more alarming is the fact that, to this day, Conagra apparently refuses to institute a nationwide recall to ensure that the defective cans sitting on store shelves right now are removed before someone else suffers permanent injury from an explosion."
In conclusion, this has been your gentle reminder to relocate your PAM to a cool and dry storage spot, and to spray your utensils well out of range of your stove, lest you find yourself engulfed in flames.