I gave the office the 5th off, but had the opportunity to talk with Fox 10 about the “Blue Bell Licker.” According to the report:
Police in East Texas say they have spoken with the suspect in a viral video seen licking a tub of Blue Bell ice cream before putting it back in the store’s freezer and have identified her as a juvenile.
In the video, which was uploaded to Twitter and has since been watched over 10 million times, the girl was seen licking an already opened tub of Blue Bell’s Tin Roof flavor ice cream, and then re-seal the ice cream and return it to a store’s freezer. All tubs of the flavor shown in the video were pulled from that store’s shelves.
Lufkin police dubbed her the “Blue Bell licker.” And while it might have been a comedic moniker, police took the investigation seriously. And the potential punishment is no laughing matter.
Lufkin police identified her earlier this week after officers found surveillance video of a female seen leaving the store, who matched the description of the suspect. She could face up to 20 years in prison if she’s charged with the second-degree felony.
Officers were able to talk with the suspect and her boyfriend, who is an adult. They say she is from San Antonio but tied to the Lufkin area through her boyfriend’s family. Police are still working with prosecutors to determine if he’ll be charged.
Police said they were “both forthcoming with what occurred and admitted to the act.”
Her name will not be released because she is a juvenile, but the case has been turned over to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
Lufkin police said they do not plan to charge her as an adult, so the juvenile justice system will decide what charges she may face. Police are still discussing if her boyfriend will face charges in this case.
Bill Marler is a food safety attorney. While some are shocked food tampering carries a possible 20-year sentence, Marler says it’s because it can be a serious problem.
“I think you have to use some prosecutorial decision making,” he said. “For example, if the person who was licking the ice cream knew that they had Hepatitis A or HIV or some disease and was doing it, I think that rises to a higher level of culpability that some teenagers doing some crazy things.”
Blue Bell says it believes it located the licked gallon and got it off the shelf. And with the suspected licker identified, the hope is the serious response to a silly video sends a message and perhaps leads to change.
“Hopefully, the authorities can get to the bottom of this and deter other Instagrammer-type people from doing this,” Marler said.
It does make you think about proportionality in the criminal justice system. Twenty years for licking ice cream? And, nothing – so far – for what happened with Blue Bell in 2015 when a total of 10 people infected with several strains of Listeria were reported from four states. Those states and victim numbers are Arizona with one patient, Kansas with 5, Oklahoma with one, and Texas with three.
Illness onset dates ranged from January 2010 through January 2015. The people with illness onsets during 2010-2014 were identified through a retrospective review of the CDC’s PulseNet database for DNA fingerprints matching isolates collected from Blue Bell ice cream samples. All 10 of the outbreak patients were so sick they were admitted to hospitals. Three people in Kansas died.
The illnesses and deaths were tragic, what was found in the plants was, well, criminal:
Inspectors’ observations reported on the three key Blue Bell “483s” – FDA Inspection Reports — from three different Blue Bell facilities were as follows:
Observation #1: Failure to manufacture and package foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.
Observation #2: Failure to perform microbial testing where necessary to identify sanitation failures and possible food contamination.
Observation #3: The procedure used for cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and utensils has not been shown to provide adequate cleaning and sanitizing treatment.
Observation #4: Failure to provide running water at a suitable temperature for cleaning equipment, utensils and food-packaging materials.
Observation #5: The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent drip and condensate from contaminating food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials.
Observation #6: Employees did not wash and sanitize hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility after each absence from the work station and at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated.
Observation #7: Failure to store cleaned and sanitized portable equipment in a location and manner which protects food-contact surfaces from contamination.
Observation #8: All reasonable precaution were not taken to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.
Observation #9: The design of equipment does not allow proper cleaning and maintenance.
Observation #10: Failure to hold foods which can support the rapid growth of undesirable microorganisms at a temperature that prevents the food from becoming adulterated.
Observation #11: Failure to have smoothly bonded or well-maintained seams on food contact surfaces, to minimize accumulation of food particles and organic matter and the opportunity for growth of microorganisms.
Observation #12: Failure to take apart equipment as necessary to ensure thorough cleaning.
Observation #1: Failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms.
Observation #2: The procedure used for cleaning and sanitizing of equipment has not been shown to provide adequate cleaning and sanitizing treatment.
Observation #3: The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent condensate from contaminating food and food-contact surfaces.
Observation #4: Failure to clean food-contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food.
Observation #5: Failure to wear beard covers in an effective manner.
Observation #6: Failure to maintain buildings in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming contaminated.
Observation #1: Failure to perform microbial testing where necessary to identify possible food contamination.
Observation #2: Suitable outer garments are not worn that protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces.
Observation #3: Failure to maintain food contact surfaces to protect food from contamination by any source, including unlawful indirect food additives.
Observation #4: The design and materials of equipment and utensils does not allow proper cleaning.
Observation #5: All reasonable precautions are not taken to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.
Observation #6: Employees did not wash and sanitize hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated.
Observation #7: The plaint is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent condensate from contaminating food-contact surfaces.
Observation #8: Non-food-contact equipment in manufacturing areas is not constructed so that it can be kept in a clean condition.
There was little wonder why a Listeria outbreak happened and why Blue Bell’s plants were shuttered. I suppose it does leave an open question: If the girl is prosecuted with a possible 20-year sentence for licking ice cream, should Blue Bell face zero years for 10 Listeria illnesses with three deaths?
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)