The Blue Bell ice cream plant associated with the highly publicized Kansas Listeria outbreak exhibited multiple food safety flaws noted by a group of 11 FDA inspectors who visited the facility during the last half of April. According to the report of inspectional observations by the group, the Blue Bell plant continued to manufacture ice cream products for several days after the company’s own sampling found Listeria monocytogenes around a drain that was not in direct contact with food. And by then, the Texas Department of State Health Services had notified Blue Bell that Listeria monocytogenes had been found in products from the plant. The company itself confirmed Listeria findings in its Great Divide Bar and Chocolate Chip Country Cookie, the report said.
One of the observations made by the FDA inspection team at the Brenham, Texas, facility was “failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms.” Another observation was “failure to clean food contact surfaces as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food.” The specific finding in that regard was that hoppers in the blending room “were not kept clean” and the underside of hopper lids were caked with emulsifiers and stabilizers. The May 1 report, which included a few other food safety shortcomings, was one of three inspection reports recently published by the FDA after field staff visited Blue Bell ice cream plants in Brenham, Texas; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; and Sylacauga, Alabama.
Ice cream from the Texas plant has been linked to last year’s listeriosis outbreak among patients at a Via Christi hospital in Wichita, Kansas. Three of the five outbreak victims died after becoming infected. State and federal health authorities have since determined that five other Listeria illnesses — three in Texas, one in Arizona and another in Oklahoma are linked to ice cream from Blue Bell’s Oklahoma plant. The illnesses happened months and years apart from each other in many cases, but modern molecular subtyping has allowed disease investigators to connect the cases into a single outbreak.