Listeria patients who were treated at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita as part of the Blue Bell ice cream outbreak, and hospital officials themselves, may be interested to hear that Blue Bell will be prohibited from distributing future products until sampling tests indicate that the ice cream is safe. The so-called “test-and-hold” method is mandated under an agreement between Blue Bell’s CEO Paul Kruse and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Listeria agreement lays out conditions under which Blue Bell’s ice cream facilities in Brenham will be allowed to resume production after a massive ice cream Listeria recall and shutdown of commercial manufacturing. A separate but similar agreement will apply the same standard to Blue Bell’s plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
A recent survey in Food Manufacturing magazine showed that most food makers in the U.S. are testing for pathogens, product quality, biological contaminants and other food safety dangers. But a number of manufacturers ship product before the testing results are in.
Food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker, who has filed the nation’s first Blue Bell Listeria lawsuit, said the ice cream outbreak that hospitalized five people in Kansas as well as sickening other people in Texas and other states would have been prevented if Blue Bell had waited for assurance that its products were uncontaminated before shipping them. Pritzker has been advocating for many years to make “test-and-hold” policy mandatory in all food manufacturing.
“It’s simple,” he said. “Test your product. Hold your product until test results are completed. If testing reveals your product is adulterated, don’t ship it. If you violate any or all of these three steps, you should go to jail.”
Blue Bell initiated a national recall of its entire product line and suspended production at the Brenham facilities as well as its two other facilities in Oklahoma and Alabama. Beginning with trial runs prior to product reintroduction, they must institute a “test and hold” program for all finished product to be introduced into commerce for a period of one year, or such period as deemed necessary by health authorities.
The outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream by the FDA and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resulted in 10 confirmed illnesses and three deaths. The five Kansans who were sickened were treated at Via Christi in Wichita. The Blue Bell lawsuit filed this week in Texas alleges that an 11th victim — a man from Texas who ate Blue Bell ice cream recalled for contamination — also was severely injured and will suffer life-long health repercussions from his life-threatening struggle with listeriosis.