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CORRECTED: Blue Bell asks FDA if it can return to ‘industry norm’

CORRECTED CONTENT: Blue Bell Creameries wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to release it from certain food safety precautions imposed after its ice cream was linked to a deadly Listeria outbreak, seeking permission for less expensive practices it refers to as  “the industry norm.”

There is no word on FDA’s response to the request, which was made available to the Houston Chronicle under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) submittal.

Blue Bell banana pudding pintAttorney Joseph Levitt made the request to FDA on behalf of Blue Bell. The company contends it is losing millions of dollars worth of ice cream because of a requirement that it must destroy products that have preliminary positive test results for pathogens.

“What we are asking the FDA to do is release us from having to destroy product based on preliminary finished product testing in favor of validated and confirmed finished product testing that is more in line with the industry norm,” according to a statement from the company.

“Blue Bell wants to limit the destruction of products to only those that have confirmed positive for a contaminant.”

In 2015, Blue Bell was linked to a deadly five-year, multi-state Listeria outbreak, which forced it to remove its iconic brand of ice cream from grocery freezer spaces and close its three production facilities. Questions of what and when Blue Bell knew also attracted the interest of the U.S. Department of Justice over possible federal criminal charges.

Things did not exactly go smoothly for Brenham, TX-based Blue Bell this year either. Early in 2016, Bell Blue reported Listeria will always be a threat. Company officials said their new cleaning, sanitizing and testing programs are keeping their customers as safe as possible, though.

Texas officials imposed a fine and put Blue Bell on a short leash in July 2016. An agreement between Blue Bell and the Texas State Department of Health Services required the company to pay $175,000 within 30 days of the signing of the agreement. Another $675,000 — for a total fine of $850,000 — must be “held in abeyance” and would go to the state if Blue Bell fails to meet food safety requirements in the coming 18 months.

Two months after signing the agreement with Texas, Blue Bell was again recalling ice cream because of potential Listeria contamination, but this time blaming cookie dough from a supplier as the source. That claim turned out to be true and cookie dough producer Aspen Hills Inc. of Garner, IA, recalled its dough, triggering a series of secondary recalls of other products.

Editor’s note on correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated what Blue Bell Creameries requested in relation to special restrictions imposed in the wake of a five-year Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to its ice cream. 

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