Florida officials say 16 of 17 ice cream samples from a production facility have tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, spurring a formal stop sales order from the state.

The facility produces ice cream for Big Olaf Creamery, which has been linked to an outbreak of Listeria infections that has sickened 23 people and killed one. An infected pregnant woman also miscarried.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) earlier this week issued a formal shut down order for the manufacturing plant after 9 of 100 samples from the facility and its equipment tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The positive tests at the facility included one from a transfer pipe from pre mix to an ice cream machine.

The positive test results from the ice cream samples were released on the evening of July 15. Documents from the state agriculture department show the samples were collected on July 9. The samples for tests of equipment in the plant were taken on July 7.

Please find linked here [dropbox.com] the results for the product subsamples that represent the 16 positive flavors. The one outstanding environmental sample [dropbox.com] noted previously has also come back positive, bringing the total positive environmental samples to 10. Click  here [dropbox.com] for those results.

A Seattle food safety attorney who is representing the family of the woman who died after eating the ice cream said he was shocked that 16 of 17 product samples were positive for the deadly pathogen.

“What this shows is that this manufacturing facility had a severe Listeria problem, which shows a sanitation problem,” said attorney Bill Marler. “I am actually shocked that there aren’t more people sick. That could be because more people were not tested.

“The biggest surprise is that the facility and stores stayed open for at least a week after it was known there was a problem. Why didn’t the company shut down? Why didn’t the state shut them down?”

The Florida Department of Health told Food Safety News earlier this week that it has been investigating the Listeria outbreak for more than a year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the first person confirmed as an outbreak patient got sick on Jan. 24, 2021. The most recently confirmed patient became ill on June 12, 2022. Twenty-two of the 23 victims had to be hospitalized. They range in age from 1 to 92 years old and live in 10 different states. Twelve victims live in Florida, and nine report traveling to Florida before becoming ill.

“The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak,” according to the CDC.

It can take up to 70 days for symptoms of Listeria infection to develop after exposure to the pathogen.

The Florida agriculture department reports that the following flavors of Big Olaf ice cream tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes: Blueberry Cheesecake, Butter Pecan, Cherry Cordial, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Coconut Almond Joy, Cookie Dough, Cookies & Cream, Kahlua Krunch, Mint Chip, Pistachio, Plantation Praline, Superman, Vanilla, and White Chocolate Raspberry.

The company has initiated a recall of all of its products. On July 3 owners of Big Olaf posted this statement on the company’s Facebook page:

For now it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation, our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases, am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. The original report we got from the Florida Department of Health on Friday July 1st, was that there are 23 cases reported, the first one reported was January 2022. 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven. We have been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health, FDACS and the FDA as soon as we were informed about the situation. We have been transparent and have answered all their questions and provided them with all the information requested from us, as the health and well being of the public is our first priority.

Anyone who has eaten any Big Olaf ice cream and become ill should immediately seek medical treatment, according to the CDC.

The investigation into the outbreak and the situation at the manufacturing plant is ongoing and includes the state agencies as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

About Listeria infections
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has eaten any recalledice creamand developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.

Also, anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products should monitor themselves for symptoms during the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days after exposure to Listeria for symptoms of listeriosis to develop. 

Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses. 

Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News,click here)