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Schwan’s Ice Cream Salmonella Outbreak

Editor’s Note:  This is the final installment in a ten-part series on meaningful foodborne illness outbreaks.

A year earlier, when the publicly-traded company that owned Jack-in-the-Box saw its stock tank in the aftermath of the E. coli outbreak caused by hamburgers, the world food industry was watching.  In 1994, the privately owned Schwan Food Company handled its outbreak of Salmonella in a much more aggressive way.  Here how it happened:

Ice_cream.jpgIn October 1994, an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis occurred in southern Minnesota.  Upon investigation, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that there was a strong statistical link between those who were sickened and Schwan’s ice cream.

The Marshall, MN-based ice cream maker is one of the largest in the world, producing its own brand and others.   As soon as the Health Department notified the company about its report, Schwan’s ceased all ice cream production.  Setting precedent at the time, Schwan’s then took out paid advertising warning people not to eat its ice cream products, which were distributed nationally.

Further investigation found that the contamination was caused by a contractor’s truck that delivered an ice cream pre-mix to Schwan’s.  In a previous load, the trucker had carried raw, unpasteurized eggs and the tank had not been properly washed between loads.

In the process of managing its way through the outbreak, Schwan’s blazed a new trail for what it takes to be a responsible company with a national recall.

© Food Safety News
  • I am sitting here waiting for the Schwan’s guy as I am reading this, and I live in southern MN What a coincidence, I just happened upon this article at this time, I love Schwan’s food, their pasta, veggies, and everything is fresh and home made tasting, now I’m wondering why this popped up on my computer when he will be here with my order including ice cream in 40 minutes….

  • S. Seppi

    Funny, I was reflecting on how my experience working for The Schwan Food Co. during the salmonella outbreak effected my present work ethics. Out of curiosity, I began looking for the year this outbreak occurred and scrolled down and saw your posting. I worked for the logistics/transportation dept. of The Schwan Food Co. during this outbreak and I do know that in addition to taking great steps to ensure that no one else got sick at the time of the outbreak, The Schwan Food Co. also increased their internal precautions. The distribution center is a hub for The Schwan Food Co. – product comes in and then goes out. Although I can’t speak regarding the new procedures that were put in place during the production process, I do know that there is now mandatory testing on all batches of ALL products(I left the company in 2004). While batches could be shipped to the distribution center before the test results came back, any incoming product without preapproved coding was “quarantined”, tested locally by quality assurance employees, and placed on hold until local testing was satisfied and approval was granted through verification of coding. I repeat, that although I can’t say what types of testing these products do undergo prior to entering the distribution center in Marshall, MN, I do know that the chances that any product gets onto your rep’s truck without approval is slim to none. The new testing procedures and the mandatory adherance to date code verification was put in place after the outbreak – a lot of time and money was put into these procedures to make certain that an outbreak didn’t happen again. I wouldn’t worry.

  • chester farage

    would not worry about anything wrong with ice cream i worked for them at that time they made it right with all their customers i dont know of anyone in my area that got sick, best ice cream in the world.

  • G. R.R.

    Check the food from Schwann’s. They have gone downhill in the last year. In particular, they are now importing from China. Check their Salmon burgers and Salmon as well.
    Personally, after 15 loyal years, I have quit buying from them.

  • Tammy Whitaker

    Both me and my husband worked for Schwan’s when this event took place – me as a Division Secretary and him as a Warehouse Manager. During the recall, I was fielding as many as 150 customer calls a day – mainly from customers who DID NOT want to give their ice cream back, even though it was going to be replaced! I have never been more proud to be associated with a company in my entire working career. Schwan’s handled the recall with the greatest professionalism I have ever seen and it was very evident that they held the highest concern for both their customers and employees. I left Schwan’s many years ago for further career opportunities, but remain a customer to this day.

  • andrew miller

    I got sick from this when i was in 5th grade. we knew what it was and our icream was infected, but becuase my doc knew what it was he did not take a stole sample and I did not get anything that was offered from this company. they sent that information months after the fact.
    Its still my favorite icecream but these day $15/gallon is hard to swollow.

  • zach

    i havnt eaten a single product of theirs since this outbreak