Blue Bell recalls all products due to Listeria

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Blue Bell said it could not say with certainty how Listeria got into the facility
Blue Bell said it could not say with certainty how Listeria got into the facility

Related tags Listeria monocytogenes

Blue Bell Ice Cream is recalling all products made at all facilities because they could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The decision came after findings from an enhanced sampling program by Blue Bell which revealed that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17 and March 27 contained the bacteria.

Blue Bell has had several positive tests for Listeria in different places and plants.

Outbreak case count

The outbreak now involves ten people infected with strains of Listeria monocytogenes: five from Kansas, three from Texas and one each from Arizona and Oklahoma.

Illness onset dates ranged from January 2010 through January 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“This is a complex and ongoing multistate outbreak investigation of listeriosis illnesses occurring over several years. Several strains of Listeria monocytogenes​ are involved in this outbreak,”​ said the agency.

Patients with illness onsets from 2010-2014 were identified through a retrospective review of the PulseNet database for DNA fingerprints similar to isolates from Blue Bell ice cream samples.

Blue Bell ice cream products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes have been found to be a contributing factor in three deaths, according to officials. 

Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, said the best way to ‘do the right thing’ was to take all products off the market until it can be confident they are safe.

“We are heartbroken about this situation and apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been about making the very best and highest quality ice cream and we intend to fix this problem,” ​he said.

“We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.

“At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities and so we have taken this unprecedented step. We continue to work with our team of experts to eliminate this problem.”

Action by the company

Blue Bell expects to resume distribution soon on a limited basis once it is confident in product safety.

The firm is implementing a procedure called “test and hold” for products made at all of its manufacturing facilities. Products will be tested first and held for release to the market only after tests show they are safe.

The Broken Arrow facility will remain closed as investigations continue.

The firm is expanding its system of daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and swabbing and testing our plant environment by 800% to include more surfaces.

It is also sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing and providing additional employee training.

The products recalled are distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma,  South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and internationally.

Samples by the FDA, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control, and the Texas Department of State Health Services have also shown Listeria monocytogenes in products, ​and prompted earlier recalls.

FDA environmental sampling has not shown Listeria monocytogenes on food contact surfaces in any Blue Bell facilities but it has found the pathogen in production facilities in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama.

One additional isolate from a patient with listeriosis is undergoing further molecular lab testing to determine whether it is related.

CDC and FDA advised consumers not to eat any Blue Bell brand products and institutions and retailers not to serve or sell them.   

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