July 12, 2024

Oklahoma Inspectors Liked Blue Bell Plant Just Before Finding Listeria

Dairy Services inspectors for the state of Oklahoma liked what they saw at the Blue Bell Ice Cream plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, just weeks before the company shut down production there and expanded recalls related to an ice cream Listeria outbreak.

“Great job,” “Keep it up!” and “No violations observed!” were among the remarks written into the report from a March 18 food safety review at the plant, according to an inspection document obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. A few days earlier, federal health officials had linked Blue Bell ice cream made in Texas to an outbreak of listeriosis that killed three people in Wichita, Kansas. Then, on March 22, Kansas officials informed Blue Bell that they found Listeria monocytogenes in a Blue Bell 3-ounce single serving chocolate ice cream cup manufactured in Broken Arrow.

Kansas Blue Bell LawsuitWhat followed was a recall of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream cups with tab lids. Then, as the Listeria investigation continued with help from the same Oklahoma food regulatory agency, more Listeria was found in samples of Blue Bell Banana Pudding Ice Cream pints made at the Broken Arrow plant, the FDA said. By then, Blue Bell had suspended all production in Broken Arrow. The latest Blue Bell Listeria recall involves ice cream and sherbet in pints and half-gallons and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes eight to 11 people have been sickened in the outbreak. A cluster of five illnesses in Kansas and three in Texas have already been confirmed.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF), the Dairy Services division is responsible for food safety at dairy farms and plants that make dairy products. “Each plant and all the equipment utilized in pasteurization and/or manufacturing dairy products such as ice cream, cheese, yogurt, etc. are checked for cleanliness and sanitation,” ODAFF says on its website. “Samples of milk from the dairy farms and sample of each product packaged by the processing plants are collected at least four out of each six months. The samples are analyzed to determine if the milk or packaged dairy products meet the required federal safety standards.”

But Stan Stromberg, director of the food safety division for ODAFF, told The Associated Press that inspectors had no reason to check for Listeria during the routine March 18 review as no problems were detected and the facility didn’t have a history of issues linked to the illness. The link between Listeria deaths and ice cream from Blue Bell’s Texas plant was first announced March 13. “With an organism like listeria, you cannot do a visual inspection,” Stromberg said.

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