Most home cooks use cooking spray at some point, but it's important to know how to store and cook with it properly.

By Betty Gold
Updated May 10, 2019

For many home cooks, cooking spray is the first thing we reach for when we start a cooking project. Whether you’re cooking, baking, or grilling, you’ve probably got a can within arm’s reach of your oven.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday, a series of new lawsuits were filed against Conagra Brands, the company that manufactures the popular Pam Cooking Spray. The eight plaintiffs allege that their cans of Pam spray exploded, which caused several very severe injuries, including blindness, disfigurement, and third-degree burns. In all eight cases, the plaintiffs reported that their canisters spontaneously erupted as they were cooking.

One of the key topics this case brings into question the proper way to use and store cooking spray. In addition to the harmless ingredients like canola oil and palm oil that are used to make Pam, cans also contain propellant—a chemical agent (like gas or alcohol) that lets us forcefully spray the oil onto our cooking surface. According to the lawsuits filed against Conagra, "The contents of the canister of Pam Cooking Spray at issue included not only cooking oil, but also propellants, including extremely flammable materials such as propane and butane.”

But almost every cooking spray on the market contains propellant; it’s a large part of what makes the product so convenient. The propellant used in Pam is food-grade, meets industry standards, and is approved by the USDA. However, according to several years’ worth of product-safety testing on Conagra-manufactured cooking spray cans performed by Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder (the Connecticut-based firm that represents the victims in each case), the affected dangerous cans were the result of a new can design. They found that the cans were made so that when they buckled and the U-shaped vents on the bottom of the canister opened, the internal contents would escape through the vents and the pressure inside would be reduced.

“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," said J. Craig Smith of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. The firm believes there are additional injury victims who may not realize the potential cause of a kitchen fire or explosion experienced in the home.

Evidently aware of the danger the new can design poses, Conagra has inferred to business partners that, as of January 1, 2019, they had discontinued additional production using the new design. However, they have refused to issue a nationwide recall of already-shipped product, which has a shelf life of several years.

Conagra defended their product in a statement to CBS New York: “Please know the safety of our products and our consumers is always our top priority. When Pam is used correctly, as instructed, it is a 100-percent safe and effective product. Pam Cooking Spray is used safely and properly by millions of people several times a day, every single day. The product has been used for more than 50 years for the baking, grilling and cooking needs of consumers everywhere.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently looking into the victims’ claims, and until they report on their findings, we recommend replacing any cans of Pam with a vented bottom. Also, be sure to read the label to inform yourself how to use cooking spray in a safe way: never leave it on a stove or near a heat source, never spray near an open flame, and don’t store it where temps can get anywhere near 120°F.