Almost a year after it was linked to an outbreak that killed three people, Blue Bell Creameries is still finding Listeria in its manufacturing facilities. But it’s nothing to worry about and it’s actually kind of a good thing, the company said in an announcement on its website yesterday.
Because Listeria naturally occurs in the environment, it’s not surprising that it continues to show up in the company’s manufacturing plants. Finding it means their robust testing program is working, the company said in the announcement titled: An update on our enhanced procedures at our production facilities.
“We are pleased that our enhanced environmental and product testing procedures are working. We have identified locations where suspected Listeria species may be present in our facility, and we continue to extensively clean and sanitize those areas and make additional enhancements to the facility and our procedures based on the environmental test results. To confirm that our robust environmental program is effective, and that our “seek and destroy” goals are being achieved, we expect to periodically find microbiological indications in our facilities. Since our plants reopened, we have tested and will continue to test every batch of ice cream produced, and no products produced have tested positive for Listeria.”
In December, CBS News reported that the Department of Justice launched an investigation of the company stemming from the deadly Listeria outbreak. According to records released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the company was aware of Listeria in one of its plants in 2013.
“The company had a problem, they knew they had a problem, and they didn’t correct it,” said Brendan Flaherty, a food safety attorney who has filed a lawsuit against Blue Bell. Flaherty’s client, who frequently ate Blue Bell ice cream at the retirement community where he was an administrator, developed Listeria meningitis and suffered brain damage.
Symptoms of a Listeria infection include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Those at high risk of Listeria infections are young children, seniors, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infections in newborns.
The Blue Bell ice cream outbreak sickened at least 10 people in four states. Three people who were in a Kansas hospital died of their Listeria infections after they were served contaminated ice cream made by Blue Bell while hospitalized.
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). In Kansas, all five case patients were hospital patients who ate ice cream or milkshakes made from a Blue Bell single-serving product called Scoops.
The company recalled all of its products in April 2015 and halted production for weeks. FDA inspectors found several food safety violations at the company’s there plants in Sylacauga, Alabama; Brenham, Texas; and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma including unsanitary equipment and condensation dripping directly into the ice cream. Click here to see a timeline of key events in the Blue Bell outbreak investigation.