Blue Bell Finds More Listeria in one of its Facilities

Blue Bell Finds More Listeria in one of its Facilities
Food Safety Contamination

Listeria has been found lurking in the Brenham, Texas facility that produces Blue Bell ice cream, a southern favorite that was pulled from shelves in April 2015 when at least 10 people were sickened with listeria, including 3 people who died.

Blue Bell issued the first recall of its ice cream products in March 2015 because of a listeria outbreak in its facilities. A series of small recalls were issued as the company tried to clean the facilities, but Blue Bell president and CEO Paul Kruse launched a massive recall of all Blue Bell products on April 20, 2015. The move stopped deliveries of the ice cream to 25 states.

Genome sequencing showed that Blue Bell had likely been responsible for sickening consumers with listeria since 2010. [1]

The company started shipping ice cream again in August, with regulators’ approval.

The company at first declined to name which of its 3 facilities the bacteria had been found in this week, but has since identified the Brenham facility as the source. The firm also operates in Brown Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama. Blue Bell said it is working to eliminate all traces of listeria using a “seek and destroy” process.

“We expect to periodically find microbiological indications in our facilities,” said Blue Bell, which declined comment beyond the statement. The spokesperson said the company’s “enhanced, robust testing system” is key for locating the bacteria.

Blue Bell added that because listeria is commonly found in the natural environment, “no manufacturer can ever assume it will be entirely eradicated.” [2]

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an investigation into the company, specifically Blue Bell executives, to find out what it knew about listeria in its plants and potentially its products, and how the firm responded.

The department’s Civil Division wants to know whether Blue Bell knew was aware that it was shipping contaminated product to market.

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records released after the recall showed that the company failed to follow practices recommended by government and industry groups that might have prevented contamination, including having an all-inclusive food-safety program.

It’s fairly common these days for the DOJ to investigate food companies that have shipped contaminated products which resulted in illnesses and death, according to food-safety lawyers.

“It’s no longer unusual for the Justice Department to take an interest in an outbreak of this magnitude,” said James Neale, a Virginia attorney who represents companies in foodborne-illness cases but isn’t involved in the Blue Bell case.

Recent food-safety investigations resulted in a 28-year sentence for Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corp. of America. Parnell was convicted of leading a cover-up of that led to a deadly salmonella outbreak. It was the most severe punishment ever in a U.S. food-safety case.

ConAgra Foods Inc. agreed to pay an $11.2 million fine and plead guilty after a DOJ probe alleged the company shipped peanut butter contaminated with salmonella in an outbreak that sickened more than 700 people. [3]


[1] HoustonPress

[2] Reuters

[3] The Wall Street Journal

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