FDA Finds Blue Bell Creameries Knew of Bacterial Contamination for Years, Failed to Remedy It
Blue Bell Creameries, the producers of Blue Bell ice cream and its various other ice cream products, have recently come under a great deal of public scrutiny. In March of 2015, they announced recalls of certain products after five cases of listeriosis were reported in Kansas that were believed to be linked to their ice cream products. Three of the five patients who were treated for listeria later died. On April 20, 2015, they expanded their recall to include all of their products. A total of over 8 million gallons of ice cream were recalled.
Things got worse after federal agencies, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), began investigating Blue Bell Creameries. The Center for Disease Control linked Blue Bell ice cream products to seven more reported listeria cases, bringing the total number of illnesses caused by Blue Bell products up to ten. Some of the cases dated back as far as 2010. The FDA’s investigation found that Blue Bell’s own internal testing procedures showed proof of bacterial contamination in their facilities two years ago, but no action was taken to remedy the problems.
The Blue Bell Creamery plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma has been reported to be the main source of the problem. The FDA found that multiple tests conducted by Blue Bell in 2013, 2014, and 2015 showed traces of listeria were found on pallets used to hold ingredients, on floors, and on other surfaces that food doesn’t come into contact with. Reportedly, Blue Bell never took any steps to find the source of the bacteria or check the surfaces that came into contact with the ice cream. Tests from 2014 and 2015 also showed high levels of coliform throughout their production process, levels that violate Oklahoma law.
The FDA investigation also found other unsanitary conditions in their manufacturing facilities, including black “mold like” residue on equipment used to freeze ice cream, condensation dripping into containers of ice cream, and dirty pallets. They also say their procedures for cleaning and sanitizing equipment and other surfaces were inadequate. The FDA still hasn’t determined how, exactly, the listeria got into the ice cream.
Although the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma facility has gotten the most attention, similar issues have also been found at Blue Bell Creamery facilities in Alabama and Texas. The plants in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Texas have all been temporarily closed.
Blue Bell is currently in the process of updating their facilities and revising their practices and procedures to prevent consumers from being harmed by their products. They believe it will be several more months before their products return to store shelves. In a statement, they said, “The extensive and detailed process of updating, cleaning, and sanitizing our four production facilities, as well as training employees and implementing new programs and procedures, will take longer than initially anticipated.”