Alabama Department of Public Health officials said Wednesday that Blue Bell Creameries has the green light to produce and sell ice cream from the company’s plant in Sylacauga, AL. Ron Dawsey, director of the department’s Division of Food, Milk and Lodging, told local news outlets that inspections showed Blue Bell was meeting all state public health requirements at the Sylacauga plant and the state had no objection to the production and sale of the company’s products made there. After Listeria was found this past spring in some Blue Bell products from two different facilities and was linked to 10 illnesses in four states and to three potentially related deaths, the company suspended ice cream production at its plants in AL, Broken Arrow, OK, and Brenham, TX (its headquarters). Blue Bell also laid off or furloughed about 37 percent of its nearly 4,000 employees, the first such action in the family-owned company’s 108-year history. Blue Bell had resumed production and testing at the Sylacauga facility about a month ago after completing a cleaning and sanitizing program there, along with intensive safety training for the workforce. The company’s OK plant remains closed, and no firm date was given for when Blue Bell ice cream and related products would be back on retail shelves. “We are still finalizing our distribution plan and do not have a date when our products will return to market. We are making good progress on our facilities in Broken Arrow and Brenham, but do not have a date when production will resume,” said spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf. Blue Bell signed voluntary agreements in May and early June with public health and agriculture officials in AL, OK and TX. The company told AL officials that it would be:
- Conducting root cause analyses to identify the potential for Listeria or actual sources;
- Retaining an independent microbiology expert to help establish and review controls to prevent the future introduction of Listeria;
- Notifying the Alabama Department of Public Health promptly of any presumptive positive test result for Listeria monocytogenes found in ingredients or finished product samples and providing the state agencies full access to all testing;
- Ensuring that the company’s Pathogen Monitoring Program for Listeria in the plant environment outlines how the company will respond to presumptive positive tests for Listeria species, and,
- Instituting a “test and hold” program to assure that products are safe before they are shipped or sold.
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