December 4, 2016

After Listeria Outbreak, Texas Fines Blue Bell $850,000

After being linked to a 2015 Listeria outbreak that sickened at least 10 people, killing three of them, Blue Bell Creameries has been fined $850,000 by the the Texas Department of State Health Services for allowing adulterated product to enter the market and causing illness. But the company many only pay a fraction of the fine.

Within 30 days, Blue Bell must pay $175,000,  but will not have to pay the remaining balance if it follows the terms outlined in the enforcement agreement. The terms include: continuing to notify the health department of any test results from samples taken from ice cream, ingredients, food surfaces, machinery and other equipment in its Brenham plant that are positive for Listeria;  continuing to“test and hold” procedures “meaning ice cream must be found to be free of pathogens before it can be sold to the public,” and continuing to allow state health inspectors access to the plant so they can gather samples.

Blue Bell, the nation’s third-largest maker of ice cream, has manufacturing facilities in Brenham, Texas; Sylacuaga, Alabama and  Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. All three locations closed for several weeks after the company was linked to the outbreak and the company recalled all of its products.

Using genetic tests, health officials were able to identify cases in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona over a five-year period of time. 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.

Listeria moncytogenes can cause serious illness and death. Symptoms of an infection, which can take up to 70 days to develop,  include high fever, severe headache, muscle stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Those most at risk are young children, seniors, the immune-compromised and pregnant women. Among pregnant women, Listeria infections can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

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