Reports released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)--along with documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle--show that Blue Bell Creameries knew about Listeria contamination in their production facilities in March 2013, but they failed to take action to prevent an outbreak from occurring. The FDA released its investigation records after a Freedom of Information request was submitted by The Associated Press.
FDA records show testing results at Blue Bell plants in three locations--Brenham, TX, Broken Arrow, OK and Sylacauga, AL. The Oklahoma plant shows evidence of the most extensive food safety violations with 16 positive Listeria tests (found in ice cream, on floors and pallets used to store ingredients) from March 2013 through January 2015. All three of these facilities remain closed as Blue Bell continues a thorough cleaning and sanitizing process that includes disassembling equipment, making necessary maintenance repairs, and conducting employee training in microbiology and sanitization.
While a new statement issued by Blue Bell says that they will continue to review “every step of the production process” to avoid further or future contamination, CEO Paul Kruse says that there is no firm timeline for when production will begin again, but he believes it will be “several months at minimum.”
Blue Bell first recalled some of its products in March after three hospital patients in Kansas died after eating ice cream products. The same strain of Listeria continued to sicken more people, eventually leading to the company’s recall of all its products. The latest update on Blue Bell's website says that it has completed the major phase of its voluntary recall, reclaiming 8 million gallons of ice cream and other products from domestic and international retailers.
News of Blue Bell’s Listeria problems dating back to 2013 comes just on the heels of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream announcing this week that they uncovered the origin of their Listeria outbreak at a plant in Columbus, OH.