The FDA has released its inspection reports on Blue Bell’s three ice cream facilities revealing food safety violations at all of them and the presence of Listeria in one of them as far back as 2013. Blue Bell ice cream has been linked to a Listeria outbreak that has sickened at least 10 people in four states, three of whom have died.
The company has recalled all of its products. Consumers who have Blue Bell ice cream in their freezers should not eat it as they risk serious illness, if they do.
Blue Bell’s three production facilities, in Brehnam, Texas; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; and Sylacauga, Alabama, all had multiple food safety violations. At the Broken Arrow facility where operations have been suspended since April 3, Listeria was found repeatedly during inspections as far back as 2013.
“When you get a Listeria positive in a ready-to-eat plant environment, you shouldn’t stick your head in the sand, you should confront the problem,” said Brendan Flaherty, a Listeria lawyer with PritzkerOlsen who is representing clients in this outbreak.
Listeria was isolated from samples of non-contact food surfaces five times in 2013 , 10 times in 2014, once in January 2015 and once in February 2015. Listeria was also found after the outbreak was discovered in environmental samples collected by the FDA on March 24 and March 25 2015.
The company’s testing plan, used to evaluate the efficacy of the cleaning cleaning and sanitizing program, was inadequate, the FDA says. The plan did not include: taking samples from food contact surfaces, any preventative action needed if bacterial contamination were found, the impact on the products produced on the affected date, identification of the strain of Listeria associated with any positive results or an analysis of why cleaning and sanitizing treatments didn’t work.
In addition, tests of coliform counts, an indicator of contamination, were higher than the safe threshold 13 times between April 15, 12014 and March 16, 2015.
Other violations included using water that wasn’t hot enough during the cleaning process, condensate dripping on to equipment and into product, employees not washing or sanitizing hands properly, lack of procedure for employee footwear in sanitary areas, use of equipment that cannot be properly cleaned or maintained and failure to hold foods at proper temperatures.