Pop-Tarts Said To Be Fire Hazard
August 20, 2001 7:35 CDT
A flaming Pop-Tart that caused a fire in the home of a Washington Township couple is among more than a dozen such incidents in the past ten years. Last month the couple filed a lawsuit against the Kellogg Co.
According to a recent report by The Inquirer, Burning Pop-Tarts have been listed as the origin of fires. Some of these fires caused serious injury and extensive damage in kitchens from Delaware County and North Jersey to Canada and California.
Kellogg's spokesman Dick Lovell said the company was served last week with the lawsuit that Wayne and Brenda Hurff filed in Superior Court in Gloucester County. Also named in the suit was Black & Decker, the maker of the pop-up toaster.
According to the Hurffs' attorney, Mauro C. Casci, in July, 2000, Brenda Hurff put a cherry Pop-Tart in the toaster and then left to drive her children to preschool. She returned 10 to 20 minutes later, and saw smoke pouring from the house and firefighters were on the scene.
Township Fire Chief John Hoffman said the cause of the fire, which caused $100,000 in damage, was listed as "unattended food."
Lovell would not comment on the suit, saying, "Pop-Tarts are safe and do not cause fires." The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 17 reports in the last ten years involving fires and the toaster pastries.
There was a 1994 fire in Bethlehem, Pa., which was found to have been caused by "icing on the Pop-Tarts, which melted, thereby preventing the food from popping up in time."
In 1992, a report from an insurance investigator in San Diego said that "because of the sugary content of the material being toasted at the time of the fire," the toaster manufacturer was not liable for damages.
A fire chief in Beaver County, Pa., told a federal investigator in 1998 that the "warning on the toaster pastry box was not large enough to adequately inform the public of a possible fire hazard."
In some of those fires, there were reports of faulty appliances, but fire officials and others say the preserves inside the Pop-Tart make it more dangerous than bagels or bread when put in a toaster.
George Shalhoub, a chemistry professor at La Salle University, performed an experiment after hearing about the case. "I went out and bought a Pop-Tart, but I didn't eat it. I took a blowtorch to it," and it caught on fire."
The filling in a Pop-Tart retains heat. This can ignite the corn syrup in it and then the pastry crust, Shalhoub said. He said the Pop- Tart stopped burning when he took the propane torch away. But a constant source of heat, such as a toaster that does not eject properly, would be enough to maintain a flame that could start a serious fire.
Shalhoub cited the warning on Pop-Tart boxes: "If pastry is overheated, frosting/filling can become extremely hot and could cause burns. Do not leave toasting appliance unattended due to possible risk of fire."
Kellogg's Lovell refused to say when or why the warning had been put on the box. Pop-Tarts were the first toaster pastry when they hit shelves in 1964 and, according to him, are the most popular. According to upper Darby Fire Chief Edward A. Cubler Jr., when his son was 10, he loved Pop-Tarts. The chief said he had made sure his son watched them when they were cooking. In 1993, five of Cubler's firefighters were injured in a two-alarm fire that was caused by a burning Pop-Tart. He said that nearly destroyed a three-story home in Drexel Hill.
"It's one of those fires that stick in your head," Cubler said. The Pop-Tart got stuck in an older toaster, and when the crust broke off, a chain reaction started. "The preservatives flowed out like juice, and when it hit the hot coils, the stuff actually became flammable," Cubler said. "It became a flamethrower instead of a toaster."
It was the same story at a house on Edmonds Road in Upper Darby, Cubler said, but because there was a smoke detector, the fire was put out before it got past the kitchen. "If a bagel or piece of toast gets caught in a toaster, it will turn black and there will even be a lot of smoke," he said.
But anything that is sugary can catch on fire. According to Dallas Haam, his two daughters were toasting Pop-Tarts at home in San Jose, Calif., a few years ago when he heard screams coming from the kitchen.
"There was a Pop-Tart that had gotten stuck in the toaster, and then it burst into flames," Haam said last month. "Our daughters had not ever been allowed to cook, but could use the toaster because we thought it was safe. It was a lesson we all learned."
Robert and Betty Campbell of Passaic County, N.J., were not so lucky. They sued Kellogg's over a 1995 fire that caused $600,000 in damage.
Although the Campbells could not be reached at their new home, Mike Woch, the fire marshal in West Milford, said he remembered the blaze well. "The determination was the fire was caused by a Pop-Tart," he said. "It pretty much gutted the whole house."
That same year, Kellogg's paid $2,400 to a Springfield, Ohio, man who said a Pop-Tart had started a fire that caused damage to his home. Ron Horsley is a firefighter in Brampton, Ontario, near Toronto. He recalled a 1993 fire involving a Pop-Tart that left a boy with burns over 70 percent of his body.
The fire started when the 10-year-old burned a Pop-Tart in a toaster and threw it in a kitchen wastebasket, Horsley said. In fear of getting in trouble, the boy ran upstairs while flames from the Pop- Tart consumed the home. "Papers in the can ignited. The fire spread through the kitchen and engulfed the whole house," Horsley said. "I have never seen anything like that."
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; Kellogg
I swear, these things are taking over!
-I'm coo coo for cocoa...PopTarts-