I was reading a statement this morning from John Lowe, CEO of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, that was published on the company’s website yesterday (April 24). I must admit I was impressed. Unlike many companies that find themselves in the crosshairs of a food recall and possible outbreak, Mr. Lowe immediately (after learning of positive sampling for Listeria by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture) “recalled every frozen product that we have made.” Taking the step of recalling all products instead of a selected, limited recall will save Jeni’s from multiple recalls and the inevitable “death by a 1,000 cuts” and will blunt comments that it was “dragging its feet” to a safer product. Mr. Lowe’s other statements were equally impressive:
- Jeni’s is now working with more than 10 top scientists — from sanitation experts to dairy processing experts, as well as two labs, FDA and Ohio Department of Agriculture.
- Jeni’s began a broad sampling of products, and testing suggests that Listeria was present in other pints.
- Jeni’s completed a swab-testing regime at its production kitchen, and those tests indicate the presence of Listeria in its production kitchen.
- Jeni’s on April 24 began an extensive cleaning and eradication plan leading two teams in a systematic, thorough, top-to-bottom cleaning and Listeria-eradication effort.
- Jeni’s will not reopen the production kitchen until it is emphatically sure it is clean of Listeria, and the company will not open the production kitchen until it knows it will have the proper new systems in place to ensure this problem is never repeated.
All impressive, but it seems to also beg the question of why Jeni’s was not doing this all along to prevent the recall in the first place, or at least since two prior Listeria outbreaks and recalls linked to two separate ice cream manufacturers over the past four months. For example, four months ago, on Dec. 23, 2014, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream recalled all of its ice cream produced in 2014 after one of its products was linked to two Listeria illnesses. Snoqualmie Ice Cream immediately implemented several new updates, including:
- New epoxy floor
- Central sanitizing system
- Comprehensive review of production systems
- Total reset of facility
- Employee retraining
- Revised HACCP, GMP and SSOP programs
- Will not use milk crates
- Will require bacteria analysis from all suppliers
- Production zones with designated uniforms, boots, strip curtains
- Regular third-party environmental testing for bacteria
- Hold and release program (tests all batches for bacteria before shipping)
You would think that Mr. Lowe and Blue Bell’s CEO, Paul Kruse, might have looked at this and questioned whether the same could happen to my customers and my company. The bit more painful example that Jeni’s certainly could have observed has been the rolling recall of Blue Bell ice cream over the past month that recently shuttered all of its plants and recalled all of its products after being linked by CDC to at least 10 Listeria illness (3 deaths) since 2010. Of course, this outbreak would never have been noticed and the recall would never have occurred but for a random test of Blue Bell’s ice cream by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and the good people at CDC’s PulseNet (more on this in another post). On April 20, 2015, Blue Bell announced that it was recalling all ice cream and would be implementing a “test and hold” for all products made at all of its manufacturing facilities. Blue Bell also announced that it would be implementing additional safety procedures and testing, including:
- Expanding its already robust system of daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment
- Expanding its system of swabbing and testing the plant environment by 800 percent to include more surfaces
- Sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing
- Providing additional employee training
So, back to my question: Why do we seem to never learn from the Listeria mistakes of others? ———-  Full disclosure: I have been assisting Snoqualmie during this process.