Former Employees Speak of Unsanitary Conditions from Deadly Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak

Former Employees Speak of Unsanitary Conditions from Deadly Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak
Food Safety Contamination

Former employees of Blue Bell Ice Cream’s Brenham, Texas, plant are speaking out about the mismanagement and apathy that led to a deadly listeria outbreak and massive ice cream recall.

In April, Blue Bell recalled 8 million gallons of ice cream after the products were linked to 10 listeria cases in 4 states, including 3 deaths in Kansas. The bacteria can cause serious illness, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems and pregnant women. Prior to the outbreak, Blue Bell was the number 3 brand in the country. The company’s ice cream was sold in 23 states and was a particular favorite in the South. [1]

Blue Bell ice cream hit shelves again on August 31, but the Brenham plant is still not operational.

According to Terry Schultz, who operated a machine at the Brenham factory in the 7 months leading up to the recall, unsanitary conditions plagued the facility because stopping to clean up messes was believed to take away from productivity. Melted ice cream pooled on the factory’s floors, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

“A lot of times when I walked in there was just ice cream all over the floor,” Schultz explained. “Sometimes the machines would just go haywire, the product would just continually run through the conveyor belt and just drop right onto the floor.” [2]

Complaining to the management reportedly proved useless.

“The response I got at one point was, is that all you’re going to do is come here and bitch every afternoon?” recalled Schultz.

Read: How to Fight Listeria Bacteria in Your Food

For 5 years, Gerald Bland operated a fruit feeder at the plant. He was instructed to pour ice cream and fruit juice that dripped off the machine into barrels of ice cream mix to be used later.

“You would see oil on top from the fruit feeder leaking that would still go right into the barrel,” he explained, adding that it would have been easy for some of the oil from the machines to wind up in some of the ice cream.

Even though the practice stopped a year before the recall, conditions were still ripe for listeria to proliferate. Even flooding didn’t concern the management. [3]

“[Water] on the wall, by the three-gallon machine. If it had rained real hard and water sat on the roof, if would just trickle down,” Bland said. “We had a couple of times where it actually flooded area two, to where they had to cut their machines off because there was too much water over there.”

The former employees’ descriptions of the Brenham plant are consistent with FDA inspection reports that were released in May of Blue Bell facilities conducted from 2007 to 2015.  Those reports showed no evidence of listeria contamination, but noted numerous other food safety protocol violations.

In a statement from Blue Bell to CBS News, the company said it was:

“committed to ensuring that we are producing a safe product through our enhanced manufacturing procedures, including increased focus on sanitation and cleaning, ongoing evaluation from independent microbiologists, voluntary agreements with our state regulators, and finally, a test and hold procedure.”

Sources:

[1] CBS News

[2] CBS News

[3] KENS5 San Antonio

Featured image from CitizensReport