The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) investigation into the Listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Creameries products is over, according to an update the agency issued on Wednesday, June 10. Listeria and Blue Bell Ice CreamA total of 10 people with listeriosis related to this outbreak were reported from four states, CDC stated. They are: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). All were hospitalized, and three deaths were reported from Kansas. Illness onset dates ranged from January 2010 through January 2015, according to CDC. The people with illness onsets during 2010-2014 were identified through a retrospective review of the PulseNet database for DNA fingerprints matching isolates collected from Blue Bell ice cream samples. On April 20, 2015, Blue Bell recalled all of its products made at all four of its production facilities (two in Brenham, TX, one in Broken Arrow, AR, and one in Sylacauga, AL). The company’s recalled products are ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks. CDC advises consumers not to eat any recalled Blue Bell products and institutions and retailers not to serve or sell them. Since the products are frozen, consumers, institutions and retailers are advised to check their freezers and, if any recalled product is found, it should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase, even if some of the product has been eaten and no one has become ill.

CDC epi curve listeria blue bell
People infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes by month of illness onset ( n=10 for whom information was reported as of June 9, 2015).
Infections with Listeria bacteria are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and newborns, adults 65 or older, and those with weakened immune systems. Meanwhile, Blue Bell has responded to the results of recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections at its production facilities. FDA posted those recent inspection reports May 7, 2015, along with reports from inspections the agency and contracted state inspectors had done at Blue Bell plants and warehouses from 2007-2012. FDA has also posted the company’s responses and the sampling results from tests done at Blue Bell facilities. Company President and CEO Paul Kruse noted that responses had been provided to each problem cited by the inspectors, along with a detailed list of corrective actions which he indicated have already been completed or are in the process of being done at its production facilities. “We hope our efforts demonstrate the seriousness with which we are taking this situation, as well as our commitment to making sure we get this right,” Kruse said in a statement released Tuesday, June 9. “We are committed to seeing this plan through and to working with the FDA each step of the way. Once Blue Bell, the FDA and the applicable state regulators agree we are ready to reintroduce products into commerce, we plan to resume production with a phased-in selection of flavors and sizes, expanding only after our revised programs have demonstrated they are capable of ensuring product safety.” Kruse said the company is reassessing everything about its operations and updating environmental and product testing procedures. Blue Bell recently signed agreements with public health officials in the states of Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas laying out a stringent regime of testing, cleanliness and sanitation steps it would be taking at its plants in those states, along with enhanced employee training and test-and-hold procedures it would be instituting before products would legally be allowed to return to the marketplace.

  • Kate

    It would be very helpful to know how the listeria contamination occurred so we can all learn from this very unfortunate experience. Will this information be shared?

    • Jennifer Johns

      Yeah I was wondering the same thing with the Jeni’s Ice Cream outbreak in Ohio. They found Listeria on one piece of equipment but they don’t know or aren’t saying how it got there.

      • Gary

        They likely do not know how it got there. L. Mono. is ubiqitous in nature so it could have come from anywhere.

    • Gary

      Hopefully it will Kate. The problem, I suspect, is the L. Mono. could have come from a variety of sources within the facility. The most likely scenario would have been contaminated process/packaging equipment or from overhead condensation dripping into the product.

      From what I understand of the Blue Bell facilities is they had a track record of positive Listeria results in their environmental swabbing program. This is a great concern as it shows their lack of urgency in finding the root cause and resolving it.

  • Lars Krusell

    I agree with Kate. Contamination is easy and probable from production equipment and the environment. More interesting is at what stage in the production was Listeria allowed to grow to infective levels?

    • Gary

      In cold, wet processing environments like ice cream plants or dairy plants it grows everywhere! Listeria is difficult to eradicate once a plant has it.

  • Paul

    You can request the FDA reports through a Freedom of Information Act. It is your right. Your local congressman can help with how this is done.