The 10th largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2015 was the Blue Bell ice cream Listeria outbreak. The outbreak, linked to the nation’s third-largest ice cream maker, sickened at least 10 people from four states. Three of them died.
Health officials used DNA tests to identify cases as far back as 2010 that were part of the outbreak. Confirmed cases were identified in Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). The three fatalities were in Kansas where all five patients were hospital patients who ate ice cream or milkshakes made from a Blue Bell single-serving product called Scoops.
After the Kansas patients were identified, the hospital was told to hold all Bell Bell products in quarantine. Testing on these products found Listeria in single serving chocolate ice cream cups. This strain did not match the one that sickened the Kansas patients, but it did match the strain in other chocolate cups made at the company’s Broken Arrow facility and a strain found in three hospital patients in Texas.
After the ice cream was linked to the outbreak, Blue Bell began a series of product recalls. On April 20, the company recalled all of its products.
The five-year span of the outbreak uncovered a longstanding Listeria problem at Blue Bell. Reports released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 7 showed the company was aware of Listeria in its plants in 2013 but did not test the bacteria to discover if it was pathogenic or take measures to eradicate the problem.
Many of the illnesses were linked to contaminated single-serve ice cream products made for Blue Bell’s institutional clients like the retirement community where David Philip Shockley worked.
Shockley, 32, is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed May 19 against Blue Bell. He was an administrator at a Houston retirement community that was one of Blue Bell institutional clients. Because he suffers from ulcerative colitis, Shockley had been taking immunosuppressive medications since 2012. He had also been regularly snacking on Blue Bell ice cream products while he was at work.
In late October 2013, he became ill with a severe headache, nausea and light sensitivity. He later lost consciousness, friends found him un-responsive. He was rushed by ambulance to the hospital where he was admitted to the intensive care unit in acute respiratory failure and septic shock suffering seizures and a fever over 106˚ F. He didn’t fully regain consciousness for six days, according to the complaint.
When he did he was unable to walk, talk, swallow, see properly or move much of his body. He was diagnosed with Listeria meningitis. He has permanent neurological damage.