Blue Bell Creameries has announced plans to launch production testing of ice cream “on a limited basis” at its plant in Sylacauga, AL, sometime in the next several weeks. No specific date was given for the test production to start nor for when the company’s products would return to the marketplace. In a brief statement posted July 8, 2015, Blue Bell reported that it had notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health, as laid out in its voluntary agreement with that state. Blue Bell signed similar agreements in May with officials in Texas and Oklahoma, where it also has manufacturing facilities. The company indicated that the limited test production was meant to confirm whether new procedures, facility enhancements and employee training have been effective. “Ice cream produced will be closely monitored and tested. Upon completion of this trial period, Blue Bell will begin building inventory to return to the market,” the statement read. Ron Dawsey, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Environmental Services, said department officials had been in contact with Blue Bell throughout the shutdown period and were monitoring the situation. “They said they would give us advance notice of any intent to start production. This is an intention; it could be delayed,” he told Food Safety News, adding, “As they start back, we will provide a representative there just to see what has been done.” The Sylacauga plant, which has been closed since late April, is one of three Blue Bell facilities where FDA inspectors found numerous violations this spring. Specific to the Alabama plant was a lack of sufficient microbial testing to identify possible food contamination, FDA reported. In the company’s June 9 response to the FDA inspection reports, Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse said that corrective actions had been taken or were being taken to all problems agency inspectors had noted. Because of the plant shutdowns, Blue Bell laid off 1,450 full-time and part-time employees and furloughed about 1,400 others in May. Those being laid off comprise about 37 percent of Blue Bell’s total workforce of about 3,900 employees and was the first layoff in the family-owned company’s 108-year history. Blue Bell announced April 20 that it was recalling all products (ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen desserts) manufactured at all of its plants after receiving positive Listeria monocytogenes test results from samples of ice cream made at two different facilities. Blue Bell products have been linked to 10 confirmed listeriosis cases in four states and three deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported June 10 that its investigation into the Listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell products was over.
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