Bluebell Ice Cream

Image courtesy of Blue Bell Creameries, Inc.

Blue Bell Identifies Source of Contamination
| published June 11, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries says it may have isolated the source of listeria which sickened scores of people in four states and is linked to the deaths of at least three people in Kansas.

After an extensive investigation of all of its major facilities, Blue Bell now believes the source of the listeria came from food ingredients and small pieces of equipment which were improperly stored in a non-sanitary room which also happened to contain an open drain. Carried by employees by hand or by hand-cart, the contaminated food ingredient containers then may have transported the listeria from that room directly into food production areas in the company’s Oklahoma ice cream plant.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Blue Bell came to this conclusion after responding to a lengthy query from the Food & Drug Administration.

A separate investigation turned up listeria in at least one carton of ice cream found at Blue Bell’s Alabama facility, and some food handling irregularities were also discovered at a facility in Texas, though there is no direct evidence showing that food from either of those plants was responsible for any illnesses or deaths.

Blue Bell has been cooperating with state and federal officials to quickly isolate the source of the listeria outbreak, and the company has said it is reviewing all aspects of how its food products are being handled and processed to remedy the problem of the contaminated ice cream. In late April, Blue Bell issued a nationwide recall and requesting that stores pull all Blue Bell products from the shelves. The listeria outbreak triggered separate interventions by the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control, and dozens of state and county agencies in more than 20 states.

Weeks after Blue Bell issued the massive recall and halted production, the company was forced to lay off thousands of employees, retaining only those who could work directly with the clean-up operations at its multiple facilities.

The CDC says that it has concluded its own comprehensive inquiry into the listeria cases linked to Blue Bell, but it is warning consumers to be wary of Blue Bell products still stored in freezers at home. The CDC recommends that all Blue Bell products be thrown out. The CDC says that listeria generally causes only minor problems, but it can have a deadly effect on anyone whose immune system is weakened or compromised—most especially the elderly, newborns and toddlers, pregnant women, and those already suffering from severe pneumonia or flu.

Blue Bell plans to begin a phased-in reintroduction of its products soon, but has not offered a specific date when its once-popular ice cream products will be seen again in grocery stores and convenience stores. The company has said it hopes to rehire most of its furloughed work force once it returns to full production.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Recall Forces Blue Bell to Lay Off Thousands; Thursday Review; May 16, 2015.

Can Popeyes Stay Ahead of Fast Food Decline?; Thursday Review; March 10, 2015.