The firm and the Alabama Department of Public Health entered into an agreement outlining steps and actions Blue Bell will take to bring products back to market.
It is similar to agreements between the company and Texas and Oklahoma state regulatory agencies announced last month.
Blue Bell products have been linked to an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes which has affected 10 people in four states and is believed to have been a contributing factor in three deaths.
The firm recalled all products in April after sampling revealed Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17 and 27 contained the bacteria.
Taking steps to get back to market
Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, said it hoped the agreement will reassure customers it is taking the necessary steps to bring ice cream back to the market.
“We are committed to making these changes so that we meet the high standards and expectations of our customers and our regulatory agencies. Blue Bell will also continue to work cooperatively and transparently with the US Food and Drug Administration.”
The agreement details actions including facility cleaning and sanitizing, revising testing protocols, production policies and procedures designed to prevent future contamination and upgraded employee training.
Once the company is ready to resume production, there will also be a trial production period before ice cream is distributed to consumers.
The agreement signed includes conducting root cause analyses to identify Listeria potential or actual sources, retaining an independent microbiology expert to help establish and review controls to prevent its future introduction and telling the Alabama Department of Public Health of any presumptive positive test result for Listeria monocytogenes and providing full access to all testing.
It also includes ensuring the company’s Pathogen Monitoring Program (PMP) for Listeria in the plant environment outlines how it will respond to presumptive positive tests for Listeria species and having a “test and hold” program to ensure products are safe before they are shipped or sold.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed inspection reports last month from Blue Bell Creameries facilities in Brenham, Texas in 2009, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, in 2012, Houston, Texas in 2007, and San Antonio, Texas in 2014.
From the 2009 document on Brenham, Texas, the FDA said: “All reasonable precautions are not taken to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.”
Blue Bell said last month 1,400 employees will be furloughed, and 750 full-time and 700 part-time employees – or 37% of the total workforce of 3,900 – will be laid off.
The furloughed employees will be paid a substantial portion of current pay, with the expectation they will return to work as production resumes.
Cleaning and improving Blue Bell’s four production plants is taking longer than anticipated, especially at the main plant in Brenham where major repairs and equipment replacements are expected, said the firm.
There is no firm timeline for when production of ice cream will begin again and when it resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time.
“You may have noticed a few photos or videos of our trucks on the roads recently,” said a statement on the firm’s Facebook page.
“Unfortunately they are not out delivering ice cream…yet. These trucks are making their way back to markets that remain open and will be used once we begin distributing ice cream to stores again.”