Blue Bell Creameries had food safety violations at its production facilities dating back to 2009, according to documents released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Dallas Morning News. Blue Bell products made at its Brenham, Texas and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma facilities have been linked to a Listeria outbreak that has killed three people and sickened several others.
Dairy products are the leading cause of Listeria outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One reason, is that manufacturing conditions are ideal for the bacteria’s growth. Listeria thrives in cool places and in areas where moisture collects.
When FDA officials inspected the Brenham, Texas plant in July 2009, they found problems with condensate dripping into products. “Specifically, on 7/23/09 a stainless steel pipe conveying liquid caramel was located directly over the 3 gallon filler station for Triple Caramel ice cream lot ‘07231 1 A’. Condensate had collected on the pipe and about [one] drop of condensate per minute was observed falling into the empty 3-gallon cartons just prior to filling and packaging. In addition, condensate was observed on the fillers above ice cream sandwich machines. A drop of condensate was observed falling onto a sandwich wafer on one of the machines from the filler pipe located directly above it just prior to filling and packaging.”
During a March 28, 2012 inspection of the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma facility, FDA inspectors found “a brown, dried residue” on the lids and rims of unmarked five-gallon buckets on one pallet “and a yellowish, dried residue” on the lid of another unmarked five-gallon bucket. “A third partial pallet of. five-gallon buckets labeled “Maraschino Cherries” was also observed to have reddish residue on the lids and sides of at least 2 of the buckets.
Health officials have used DNA fingerprinting to establish that Listeria strains found in Blue Bell ice cream match those found in patients dating back to 2010. After the outbreak was discovered, a nationwide recall of Blue Bell products was issued and production at all of the company’s manufacturing facilities was halted.
Earlier this week, PritzkerOlsen, a national food safety law firm, filed a lawsuit against Blue Bell. The suit alleges that a man developed Listeria meningitis resulting in brain damage after consuming the products.