January 24, 2020

Blue Bell Halts Production of Line Linked to Listeria Outbreak

Blue Bell has halted production of ice cream products linked to a Listeria outbreak that sickened five patients at Via Christi hospital in Wichita killing three of them.  Most of the products in question were distributed to food service operations rather than retail stores, the company’s CEO Paul Kruse has said in interviews.

Listeria-blue-bell-After Listeria was discovered in Blue Bell products during routine testing by South Carolina’s department of health in February, the problem was traced back to Blue Bell’s facility in Brenham, Texas.

The specific source of contamination was traced to a machine that creates ice cream bars, sandwiches and single scoops, Kruse told ABC News.  The machine wasn’t properly sanitized, he told KAKE.com. It is not currently in use, he said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (TSHS) does monthly inspections at Blue Bell’s Brenham facility, Media Relations Director Carrie Williams, told Food Poisoning Bulletin in an email. “We inspect these facility types monthly. Our last full inspection was February. We cited a couple minor issues but nothing related to this issue.”

However, after South Carolina found Listeria in Blue Bell’s Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwiches and Great Divide Bars on February 12, TSHS went to the Brenham facility and collected samples for testing. Listeria was found in both products that tested positive in South Carolina and an additional product, Scoops.

Unknown at this time is if the machine in question was in use during the February inspection.  On Friday, Kruse told the Houston Chronicle the machine had not been been in use for a month and half, putting its last production date closer to the end of January than mid-February when the problem was discovered in South Carolina.

Whether the machine has been offline for four or six weeks, it has had a Listeria problem for more than a year. Pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFHE) and Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) tests have matched the rare Listeria strains cultured from outbreak patients to those found in Blue Bell products. And the first case patient became ill in January 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) epi curveblue bell listeria epi curve

Health officials say consumers should check their freezers to make sure they do not have any of the recalled products.  The products affected are: Chocolate Chip Country Cookie SKU # 196, Great Divide Bar SKU #108, Sour Pop Green Apple Bar SKU #221, Cotton Candy Bar SKU #216, Scoops SKU #117, Vanilla Stick Slices SKU #964, Almond Bars SKU #156, 6 pack Cotton Candy Bars SKU #245, 6 pack Sour Pop Green Apple Bars SKU #249, and 12 pack No Sugar Added Mooo Bars* SKU #343

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