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Update: CDC Reports Two More Cases in Listeria Outbreak

Blue Bell Ice Cream recalls all products from all plants

Update: On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the case count of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to Blue Bell products from 8 to 10. The two new reported cases are from Arizona and Oklahoma. The other cases are from Texas (3) and Kansas (5). All of these people were hospitalized, and three deaths were reported from Kansas.

Illness onset dates ranged from January 2010 through January 2015, CDC stated, and those with onset dates from 2010-2014 were identified through a retrospective review of the PulseNet database for DNA fingerprints similar to isolates collected from Blue Bell ice cream samples.

CDC also stated Tuesday that there may be one more outbreak-related case pending molecular testing results. This is from a patient with listeriosis, and the agency added that results of that testing will be reported once they are available.

The Blue Bell recall story posted Monday, April 20, follows:

Blue Bell Creameries of Brenham, TX, announced Monday that it is recalling all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Blue Bell Creameries logoThe company stated that Monday’s decision was the result of findings from an enhanced sampling program which revealed that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17, 2015, and March 27, 2015, contained the bacteria.

This means Blue Bell has now had several positive tests for Listeria in different places and plants and, as previously reported, five patients were treated in Kansas and three in Texas after testing positive for Listeria monocytogenes. Three of the five people sickened in Kansas died.

The company still does not know what the source of the contamination might be, but Blue Bell’s president indicated that everything was being done to determine what caused this first product recall in the the company’s 108-year history.

“We’re committed to doing the 100-percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, in a 37-second video statement posted Monday on the company’s website.

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

The products being 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 international locations.

“At every step, we have made decisions in the best interest of our customers based on the evidence we had available at the time,” Kruse said. “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.”

Blue Bell is implementing a procedure called “test and hold” for all products made at all of its manufacturing facilities. This means that all products will be tested first and held for release to the market only after the tests show they are safe. The Broken Arrow, OK, facility will remain closed as Blue Bell continues to investigate.

In addition to the “test and hold” system, Blue Bell plans to implement additional safety procedures and testing including: expanding its system of daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, expanding the system of swabbing and testing its plant environment to include more surfaces, sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing, and providing additional employee training.

Blue Bell expects to resume distribution soon on a limited basis once it is confident in the safety of its products. However, the products could be off the market for two to three weeks.

Consumers who have purchased these items are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, consumers with questions may call 1-866-608-3940, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CDT, or go to the company’s website.

Listeria is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

© Food Safety News
  • J T

    This is exactly why I have also told my wife to stop buying all Sabra hummus products. Listeria takes months to get a foot-hold in a facility, and once it’s there, it surely effects more than a single batch! Listeria doesn’t just show up over night and get cleaned away with the normal sanitation program. ANY positive Listeria Mono sample needs to result in the closure of the entire facility and recall of EVERY product ran through the facility! The facility then needs to be torn apart and THOROUGHLY cleaned and sanitized and then cleaned and sanitized again and then retested and then cleaned and sanitized again!

  • Sarah

    Kudos to Blue Bell for shutting down all facilities and recalling all products for full refund. I think after the past decade of major recalls (PCA and Cantaloupes to name a few) this is a great proactive step.

  • Amorette

    I live in Montana. My local grocery stores carry Blue Bell products but Montana does not appear on the list of the states with problems. I am assuming, for my own peace of mind, to avoid Blue Bell products this summer.

  • Darryl

    CEO Kruse should have taken this position and tactic weeks ago when the problem was first reported by an outside agency. People have died from consuming Blue Bell product and that is simply unexceptable. The comment of checking all products going out the door is extraordinary and I ask, how possibly can this be achieved and in my professional opinion it can’t.

    The training, inspections and sampling they now say are implemented were supposed to be done on a daily basis any way. When the outbreak was first reported, the CEO comment and initial reply was that all products on the shelf are now safe and the marketing department stated this was the first incident in 108 years (some articles said 104), so to me they really said no concern or initial plan and hey we haven’t killed anyone up to now.

    The public should not be ok with this type of corporate response and behavior. Tylenol, set a responsible example on what to immediately do in the event of death. Stop production, recall all products, fix the problem and in this case introduced “tamper evidency”, apologize and get back to business. Blue Bell is a case study on what not to do – Initially wave off the issue, not be honest to the customer, not apologize, not initially pull all products and not immediately fix the situation. Weeks later the CEO is on his knees, embarrassed by his company’s lack of food safety procedures and realizing Blue Bell will have a heck of a time fixing their “good name”. Their legacy and name will be remembered and documented as products that killed consumers, plain and simple. Stay tuned for the rest of the story, it will be interesting.