June 2, 2020

Blue Bell Had Trouble With Ice Cream Line Before Listeria Discovery

The maker of Blue Bell ice cream shut down its Scoops production line even before South Carolina health inspectors discovered Listeria in products from the same line, the company’s CEO has said in two separate interviews about a deadly Kansas listeriosis outbreak associated with Scoops.

Listeria Lawsuit for Via Christi PatientsBlue Bell CEO Paul Cruse told The Houston Chonicle in a March 13 story that the machine utilized to make Scoops and other single-serve items had not been in operation for about a month and a half. That means the shutdown occurred days if not weeks before February 12, when the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control first detected Listeria monocytogenes in two types of Blue Bell products made on the same line. The checks were part of routine inspections of food products at a distribution center.

Cruse also said in The Wichita Eagle March 13 that the production line was troubled. He said health investigators believe the Listeria problem is associated only with the one line, which makes Scoops and nine other products that the company has withdrawn from the marketplace. “It’s a complicated piece of machinery,” Cruse told the Eagle. “It’s been down for about a month and a half, and what we’re likely going to do with it is throw it out the window, so to speak.”

Food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker, whose law firm is now litigating a Listeria lawsuit in New Mexico and has won millions of dollars for other Listeria food poisoning victims, said the production problems at Blue Bell’s Brenham, Texas, ice cream plant will be heavily scrutinized by plaintiffs’ attorneys. “We’ll want to know exactly what was happening with the machinery and what precautions the company took to protect consumers from contamination,” Pritzker said. “How bad was it and what did the company know?”

Pritzker said all manufacturers of refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods understand the extreme dangers of Listeria monocytogenes, a rare but deadly bacteria that can an multiply in cold temperatures and harbor inside hard-to-clean food-making equipment. Vigorous testing for the pathogen is an important protocol at many commercial food plants.

According to the FDA report, the outbreak associated with Blue Bell ice cream Scoops lasted from January 2014 to January 2015 and could possibly claim more victims if contaminated products sitting in home freezers is eaten by unwary  consumers. Five Kansans were infected by the pathogen while hospitalized for unrelated conditions at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita. Three of the case patients died.

According to the CDC, at least four of the five patients ate milkshakes prepared with Scoops ice cream before they developed listeriosis. Because Blue Bell Creameries is based in Brenham, the Texas Department of State Health Services collected product samples from the plant after an alert from South Carolina. The Texas isolates yielded Listeria monocytogenes from the same two products tested by South Carolina. In addition, the Texas sampling found Listeria monocytogenes in Scoops, the FDA said.

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