An investigative report airing Monday night on the CBS Evening News says that former workers at the Blue Bell Creameries headquarters plant in Brenham, TX, complained to management about unsanitary conditions there long before the nationwide recall of the company’s ice cream products for Listeria contamination. However, they claim that their concerns were ignored. The report, by CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod and producer Emily Rand, was being broadcast Monday and Tuesday nights on the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley and again Tuesday on CBS This Morning, plus portions were scheduled to be aired throughout the week. The network’s investigative team produced a multi-part report detailing conditions inside the Brenham plant, including the first on-camera interviews with production workers in the facility at the time of the recall.

Jim Axelrod and former Blue Bell worker
CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod (right) interviewing Gerald Bland, a former Blue Bell worker.
Two former Blue Bell workers — a laid-off ice cream production employee and a former long-time fruit feeder operator — reportedly told Axelrod that they witnessed ongoing food safety problems at the Brenham plant. Terry Schultz, the laid-off employee who worked in the Brenham plant, told CBS News that he often arrived at work to find ice cream pooled on the facility’s floor, and that nothing was done when he complained to Blue Bell management. Gerald Bland, who operated a fruit feeder at Brenham, told Axelrod that he saw oil leaking from his machine into ice cream ingredients and that water from the plant’s roof leaked into the production area when it rained, occasionally even flooding the plant. Even after ice cream produced at the plant was identified as the source of contamination, Bland said that production continued in his area of the facility. “Nothing changed, nothing,” he said. “Two weeks before we shut down, that was when they changed the procedures.” Network sources told Food Safety News that Blue Bell officials declined to be interviewed for the report but supplied the following statement to CBS News: “We are committed to ensuring that we are producing a safe product through our enhanced manufacturing procedures, including increased focus on sanitation and cleaning, ongoing evaluation from independent microbiologists, voluntary agreements with our state regulators, and finally, a test and hold procedure.”
Blue Bell Creameries plant in Texas
The Blue Bell Creameries headquarters in Brenham, TX.
Blue Bell announced April 20, 2015, 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. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the company’s products have been linked to 10 confirmed listeriosis cases in four states and three deaths. Blue Bell subsequently 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. In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted inspection reports of Blue Bell facilities completed from 2007-2015. The earlier reports did not show evidence of Listeria contamination but noted numerous violations of food safety protocols. While ice cream production resumed this summer at the Blue Bell plants in Broken Arrow, OK, and Sylacauga, AL, and limited supplies of Blue Bell products started returning to regional store shelves as of Aug. 31, the Brenham plant is still not operational. Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell, recently said that “good progress” was being made at the Brenham plant, and that ice cream production was expected to start back up there in the next few months. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)