Blue Bell Creameries announced Friday that because of the “extended timeline” required for cleaning up its four manufacturing plants before resuming ice cream production, the company will cut hundreds of employees from its workforce.
On April 20, the company recalled all products made in all four plants due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.
CEO and President Paul Kruse said that about 1,450 full-time and part-time employees will be laid off and about 1,400 others will be furloughed. Those being laid off comprise about 37 percent of Blue Bell’s total of 3,900 employees. Those workers considered “essential to ongoing operations and cleaning and repair efforts” will not be laid off or furloughed but will have their pay reduced, he added.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and president,” Kruse said. “At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally.”
In addition, he said, the company will suspend and lay off employees at distribution centers in Phoenix and Tucson, AZ; Denver, CO; Indianapolis, IN; Kansas City and Wichita, KS; Louisville, KY; Albuquerque, NM; Las Vegas, NV; Raleigh and Charlotte, NC; Columbia, SC, and Richmond, VA.
Kruse didn’t give an effective date for the layoffs, furloughs and pay reductions. However, a Las Vegas TV report noted that a Blue Bell distribution facility in North Las Vegas that had employed 14 people was closed as of Friday.
Kruse said company executives would be asking area chambers of commerce to help laid-off employees and that business owners with available jobs were being encouraged to contact Blue Bell at (979) 830-9831 or by email.
No specific date has yet been announced for when Blue Bell ice cream or its other frozen dessert products will return to the marketplace. Kruse signed agreements on Thursday with state health departments in Texas and Oklahoma detailing how food safety operations will proceed at the company’s plants in Brenham, TX, and Broken Arrow, OK, before production and distribution start up again. A third agreement relating to the Blue Bell plant in Sylacauga, AL, was also said to be in the works.
On Friday, Kruse said that when production resumes, “it will be limited and phased in over time.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Blue Bell products have been linked to 10 cases of listeriosis in four states, including three deaths. At this time, CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any Blue Bell brand products, and that institutions and retailers do not serve or sell them.
The company said April 3 that it had suspended operations at the Broken Arrow plant after state and federal authorities said Listeria monocytogenes had been found in a single-serving chocolate ice cream cup made there. The Brenham facility has been temporarily shut down since late April after Listeria was discovered in some ice cream products from its production lines.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors recently reported numerous violations at Blue Bell’s facilities in Brenham, Broken Arrow, and in Sylacauga. Kruse has indicated that company officials will respond to each of those inspection reports in detail.© Food Safety News