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Image: Frog in vegetables
Courtesy of Tim Hoffman
Marty Hoffman screamed piercingly when she spotted this frog in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 13.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 10/21/2010 7:19:03 AM ET 2010-10-21T11:19:03

Tim Hoffman is getting used to all the frog jokes. He smiles along when co-workers walk past him and say, “Ribbit! Ribbit!”

He understands why his story captures the imaginations of frozen-vegetable buyers everywhere, and he’s even able to chuckle about it a little bit in hindsight. But that doesn’t mean it’s really a laughing matter.

“The feds knew about this for a whole week and didn’t tell anybody, and meanwhile people were making soup,” Hoffman said.

Here’s what happened: At about 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 13 — more than an hour before the sun would rise over the Hoffmans’ home in Grand Ledge, Mich. — Hoffman’s wife Marty began to scream. Her shrieks, coming from the kitchen, were urgent and piercing.

“I was in the bathroom at the time,” recalled Hoffman, 48. “I was like, ‘What in the hell is going on here?’ And she couldn’t tell me. She couldn’t even answer me.”

Hoffman rushed to his wife’s side and joined in her now-mute horror: The bag of frozen mixed vegetables she’d just opened had a frog in it.

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The small frog had thawed out about as much as the vegetables had in the fridge overnight. Its mouth was slightly open. It stood perched atop a small hill of peas, carrots and corn.

The Hoffmans abandoned their plans for the mixed veggies. They photographed the frog and sealed up the bag, and Hoffman called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Detroit office. The person who took his report over the phone assured him the matter would be investigated and someone would get back to him about it.

Shining a light on the frozen frog
Days passed, and nothing seemed to happen. Hoffman said he grew increasingly worried about whether the case of the frozen frog was part of a larger problem that could affect more members of the vegetable-buying public. So, early this week, Hoffman decided to contact John Schneider, a longtime daily columnist for his local Lansing State Journal newspaper.

“After talking to [Hoffman], I could tell that he wasn’t after money or trying to extort anything from anyone,” Schneider said. “He was clear right up front: He said, ‘I don’t want anything. I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone. I just want to bring this to someone’s attention to make sure it’s an isolated incident and not more than that.’ ”

Schneider called the Meijer grocery chain where the Hoffmans bought their store-brand vegetables, and the folks at Meijer hopped into action. They formally apologized to the Hoffmans and issued a recall of the frozen mixed veggies in question.

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“Our Grand Ledge store has opened and inspected the packages at their store, and found nothing out of the ordinary,” Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi told Schneider. “We believe this is an isolated incident.”

Hoffman said he’s relieved that the frozen frog wasn’t part of a more widespread problem. He stressed that he has no problems at all with Meijer grocery stores.

“Meijer’s has been great,” Hoffman said. “After John called them they responded within an hour to me, and they investigated everything right away.”

But, Hoffman added, “The part that has me upset is that Meijer’s never knew about this until John Schneider called them. Why didn’t the FDA contact the store and at least let them know about this?”

Art Czabaniuk, acting director of the FDA’s Detroit office, told TODAYshow.com that he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the frog incident until the FDA’s investigation into the matter is completed.

“We hope to complete our investigation very soon,” Czabaniuk said.

‘A complete meal in a bag!’
Meanwhile, Schneider of the Lansing State Journal said it’s been entertaining to watch the buzz building online over the frog story.

“Some of the comments have been pretty funny,” Schneider said. “People were saying, ‘What’s he complaining about? It’s a complete meal in a bag! He should be going back and paying Meijer another $3!’ ”

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For his part, Hoffman has become a bit philosophical about the whole issue of frogs in food.

“You know, it happens,” he said. “We grow our crops on land, not in a hospital room. I know there are frogs, I know there are bugs, I know there are safety controls in place. No one got hurt, no one ate anything.”

Nevertheless, he said the experience has changed his family’s life.

“We’ll never open another bag of anything without looking at it first,” Hoffman said. “If it had been in the middle of the bag, it would have gotten eaten, I’m certain of it. It just happened to be on top.”

Hoffman is so sure the frog would have been eaten because his wife had been preparing the vegetables for their dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Zoey. Zoey needs a special diet at the moment because she’s dealing with some allergies.

“She probably wouldn’t have complained,” Hoffman said.

Need a Coffey Break? Friend TODAYshow.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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