Alabama and Blue Bell Creameries have reached agreement on rules that will surround the reopening of the company’s ice cream plant in the state. Operations in Sylacauga, Alabama, were interupted April 20 when the company recalled all of its products while investigators tried to pinpoint the causes linking Blue Bell ice cream with a long-lasting outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections. Three people died in Kansas and seven other illnesses in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona have been confirmed as tied to Listeria bacteria in Blue Bell ice cream. The onset of illnesses ranges from 2010 to January 2015.
According to terms of the latest deal, Alabama will go along with most of the same rules already determined for the upcoming reopening of Blue Bell ice cream manufacturing facilities in Oklahoma and Texas. A statement from Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse said the agreement requires rigorous facility cleaning and sanitizing, revised testing protocols, revised production policies, upgraded employee training and procedures designed to prevent future contamination. Once the company is ready to resume production, the voluntary agreement also calls for a trial production period before ice cream is distributed to consumers.
More specifically, the agreement requires Blue Bell to retain an independent microbiology expert to help establish and review controls to prevent the future introduction of Listeria. Also, the company must notify the Alabama Department of Public Health of any presumptive positive test result for Listeria monocytogenes and provide the state agency full access to all testing. And like Blue Bell plants in Texas and Oklahoma, the Alabama facility will institute a “test and hold” program to assure that products are safe before they are shipped or sold.
Meanwhile, health and food safety officials from the FDA, CDC and several state agencies continue to investigate the complex details of Listeria contamination inside Blue Bell plants and matching strains of the pathogen found in case patients and ice cream samples. No illnesses have been traced to the Sylacauga plant, but both Blue Bell facilities in Texas and Oklahoma have been confirmed as reservoirs for the outbreak.