Three months have passed since Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kansas, stopped serving all types of Blue Bell ice cream at the direction of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). The step coincided with a major breakthrough in a festering outbreak of listeriosis that Kansas tied to Blue Bell creameries in Texas and Oklahoma.
As first described March 13 in a national Listeria announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five patients at the hospital who arrived there for unrelated problems developed invasive listeriosis and three of them died. Illness onset dates for the five patients ranged from January 2014 through January 2015 and a national database showed highly related strains of Listeria monocytogenes on file in Listeria patients as far back as 2010. Of the four Via Christi case patients for whom information was available on foods eaten before Listeria infection, all four consumed milkshakes made with a single-serving Blue Bell brand ice cream product called “Scoops” while they were in the hospital, the CDC said.
The “Scoops” were made at Blue Bell’s facilities in Brenham, Texas, and a separate finding in South Carolina found Listeria in other Blue Bell single-serve ice cream products made on the same Texas production line. But the assistance provided by the Kansas Listeria investigation didn’t end there.
Aided by the state agriculture department in Kansas, KDHE collected environmental samples from the kitchen area of Via Christi St. Francis Hospital and from remaining Blue Bell ice cream products in the hospital. The hospital fully cooperated with the investigation, CDC said. None of the environmental samples from the kitchen tested positive for Listeria. However, one sample taken from an unopened Blue Bell 3-ounce single serving ice cream cup tested positive for Listeria. That product was made at the Blue Bell Creameries facility in Broken Arrow, Okla., which was not part of the initial listeriosis investigation.
Blue Bell went on to recall the 3-ounce cups and finally shut down all production in a universal recall of ice cream products on April 20 that was driven by the outbreak findings. And now a private lab has reported finding Listeria in a Blue Bell ice cream product made before the shutdown in Sylacauga, Alabama.
Listeriosis primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Some infections become invasive, entering the bloodstream and brain in cases of Listeria meningitis. One such case is at the center of the nation’s first lawsuit over the Blue Bell outbreak. That Listeria lawsuit is in progress in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, filed on behalf of D. Philip Shockley by national food safety law firm PritzkerOlsen Attorneys.