October 19, 2019

Lab Work Solidified Kansas Listeria Link to Blue Bell Ice Cream

The food poisoning laboratory that solidified the link between Blue Bell ice cream and a Listeria outbreak among Kansas hospital patients in Wichita is a deeply experienced unit with notable success in protecting public health, according to archives at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The tragic Kansas Listeria outbreak killed three of five patients at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital who drank milkshakes made from a now-recalled Blue Bell ice cream product, “Scoops.” Public alerts may have saved others from a similar fate, but officials are concerned that some recalled Blue Bell ice cream items may still be in the home freezers of people unaware of the outbreak. Bulk ice cream sold in half-gallons, pints, quarts and 3 gallons is not part of the Blue Bell recall.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream FPBCarrie Williams, director of media relations for DSHS, said the agency’s Consumer Microbiology Team performed tests on ice cream samples gathered from the Blue Bell plant in Brenham, Texas, after routine product testing in South Carolina found Listeria monocytogenes in Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwiches and Great Divide Bars that were manufactured by Blue Bell in Brenham. According to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas team confirmed Listeria in the same two products tested by South Carolina and also in “Scoops”, which was made on the same production line.

The Laboratorian, a DSHS online publication, profiled the Consumer Microbiology Team in April 2013. Water sampling dominates the team’s work, but food testing for pathogens is another central role. The story noted that the team checks on Blue Bell ice cream, Borden, Oak Farms and Amy’s Ice Cream as a matter of course.

In 2010, the team was instrumental in hospital food source evaluations that helped to solve a listeriosis outbreak that lasted for seven months and involved five hospitals. “The extensive investigation and testing efforts narrowed from chicken salad, the suspected source, to confirm a specific ingredient as the cause,” The Laboratorian said. “Ten sample bags of diced celery were collected from the manufacturer; of these, seven were positive for Listeria monocytogenes.” The accomplishment was featured in the Oxford Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases about the hospital-acquired Listeriosis outbreak.

In the Kansas outbreak that started last year, all five people were hospitalized at Via Christ St. Francis in Wichita for unrelated problems before developing invasive listeriosis—a finding that strongly suggests their infections were acquired in the hospital, the CDC has said. Of the four ill people for whom information is available, all four consumed milkshakes made with a single-serving Blue Bell brand ice cream product called “Scoops” while they were in the hospital. The Texas lab work found matching DNA codes in the ice cream it tested and in the Listeria found in case patients. More recently, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s laboratory has isolated Listeria from a 3-ounce cup of Blue Bell chocolate ice cream packaged specifically for hospitals and other institutions. Cups are now part of the recall.

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