After weeks of small-batch recalls, Blue Bell is pulling all products from shelves due to an extensive listeria scare
After a health scare that both killed and sickened people across the nation, Blue Bell is taking broader action.
After three deaths and five health scares due to a listeria outbreak, Blue Bell is recalling all of its ice cream products. In the weeks leading up to the final recall, the creamery had ceased operations at two listeria-contaminated factories. But now Blue Bell has announced that, for the safety of its customers, it will voluntarily take all of its products — including ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sherbet — off the shelves. The decision to recall the ice cream came after random health inspections found listeria bacteria in half gallons of cookie dough ice cream produced in March. As of now, multiple tests for listeria in Blue Bell factories have shown up positive.
“We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president. “We are heartbroken about this situation and apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been about making the very best and highest quality ice cream and we intend to fix this problem. We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.”
While the facilities are currently closed to distribution, Blue Bell plans to implement a “test and hold” system, which will allow safety inspectors to test each and every container of ice cream for contamination. The company will also overhaul its health and safety testing by expanding its sanitation program, adding 800 employees to its testing plant, sending samples to labs for testing, and providing extra employee training.
Blue Bell Ice Cream Recall After Listeriosis Linked to 3 Deaths
Texas ice cream maker Blue Bell announced a recall Friday after three people in Kansas died after developing a foodborne illness linked to the company’s products.
Listeriosis didn't cause the deaths, Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Sara Belfry told The Associated Press, but it may have been a contributing factor.
Five adults in Kansas developed listeriosis after eating products produced at the Blue Bell creamery in Brenham, Texas, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement. Three patients died. All five were being treated for unrelated health problems at a Wichita hospital when they became ill.
Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes and is especially dangerous for the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, the FDA said.
All five were being treated for unrelated health issues at Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas, when they became ill, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Four of the patients had consumed milkshakes made with "Scoops," a Blue Bell ice cream product, while in the hospital, the CDC said.
Listeria bacteria were found in samples of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Scoops, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars, according to the FDA.
Blue Bell said the recall did not include "half gallons, quarts, pints, cups, three gallon ice cream or the majority of take-home frozen snack novelties."
Blue Bell Ice Cream Announces First Ever Recall After 3 Die In Kansas
DALLAS — The deaths of three people who developed a food borne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products has prompted the Texas icon’s first product recall in its 108-year history.
Five people, in all, developed listeriosis in Kansas after eating products from one production line at the Blue Bell creamery in Brenham, Texas, according to a statement Friday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA says listeria bacteria were found in samples of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Scoops, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars.
Blue Bell says its regular Moo Bars were untainted, as were its half gallons, quarts, pints, cups, three-gallon ice cream and take-home frozen snack novelties.
There appeared to be some uncertainty as to where the patients acquired the listeria bacterial infection.
According to a Friday statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all five of the people sickened were receiving treatment for unrelated health issues at the same Kansas hospital before developing listeriosis, “a finding that strongly suggests their infections (with listeria bacteria) were acquired in the hospital,” the CDC said.
Of those five, information was available from four on what foods they had eaten in the month before the infection. All four had consumed milkshakes made with a single-serving Blue Bell ice cream product called “Scoops” while they were in the hospital, the CDC said.
“Scoops,” as well as the other suspect Blue Bell items, are mostly food service items and not produced for retail, said Paul Cruse, CEO of the Brenham creamery.
The CDC said the listeria isolated from specimens taken from four of the five patients at Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas, matched strains isolated from Blue Bell products obtained this year in South Carolina and Texas.
The five patients became ill with listeriosis during their hospitalizations for unrelated causes between December 2013 and January 2015, said hospital spokeswoman Maria Loving.
“Via Christi was not aware of any listeria contamination in the Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products and immediately removed all Blue Bell Creameries products from all Via Christi locations once the potential contamination was discovered,” Loving said in a statement Friday to The Associated Press.
Via Christi has eight hospitals in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Blue Bell handles all of its own distribution and customer service, Cruse said, so it moved to pull suspect products from shelves, most of them institutional, as soon as it was alerted to the South Carolina contamination Feb. 13. Cruse did not suspect handling of those products after they left the Central Texas creamery.
“The only time it can be contaminated is at the time of production,” he said. “That contamination has been traced to a machine that extrudes the ice cream into forms and onto cookies, and that machine remains off line,” he said.
All products now on store and institution shelves are safe and wholesome, Cruse said. However, “Contaminated ice cream products may still be in the freezers of consumers, institutions, and retailers, given that these products can have a shelf life of up to 2 years,” the CDC statement said.
CDC recommends that consumers do not eat products that Blue Bell Creameries removed from the market, and institutions and retailers should not serve or sell them. Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, the CDC said. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions (like diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, and HIV). Rarely, people without these risk factors are affected.
A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has invasive infection, meaning the bacteria spread from their intestines to the blood, causing bloodstream infection, or to the central nervous system, causing meningitis. Although people can sometimes develop listeriosis up to 2 months after eating contaminated food, symptoms usually start within several days. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics, the CDC said. (AP)
Blue Bell Recalls All Products After Listeria Outbreak
Blue Bell’s recalled all of its products because of the outbreak, and says people should throw away any of its products in their refrigerators or freezers.
“CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any Blue Bell brand products, and that institutions and retailers do not serve or sell them," the agency said in a statement Tuesday.
Two of Blue Bell’s facilities were found to be contaminated — one in Texas and one in Oklahoma. And now, the CDC investigation shows they may have been contaminated as far back as 2010.
“This is a complex and ongoing multistate outbreak investigation of listeriosis illnesses occurring over several years,” CDC said in a statement. “Several strains of Listeria monocytogenes are involved in this outbreak. Information indicates that various Blue Bell brand products are the source of this outbreak.”
Genetic testing links Blue Bell ice cream that was just made to six cases of listeria in Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona dating back as far ago as 2010, says Dr. Robert Tauxe, an expert on foodborne diseases at CDC.
Tauxe says disease detectives discovered this when they were investigating the three deaths from listeria in Kansas.
“The investigators go to the freezer in the Kansas hospital and grab the Blue Bell ice cream there and start culturing it. And some of it matches what’s in the patients there, but one, I think it was chocolate, did not match what was in the patients at the Kansas hospital,” Tauxe told NBC News.
The genetic sequence did, however, match six old cases of listeria dating back to 2010.
“The ice cream had just been made, but the match was strong,” Tauxe said. The evidence goes right back to the Blue Bell factory in Oklahoma.
CDC has been able to find this out because of modern, whole-genome sequencing. As technology makes it easier and cheaper to test the entire genetic code of organisms, scientists can make these discoveries.
“CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any Blue Bell brand products."
So CDC’s chasing two strains of Listeria from two separate Blue Bell factories — one in Texas, and one in Oklahoma.
“The products being recalled are distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming and international locations,” Blue Bell says in a statement on its website.
Tauxe says CDC’s never tracked an outbreak of listeria going back so far. “It is not the biggest outbreak, not by any means,” he said. “But it is probably the longest outbreak of listeria.”
He doubts very many people were sickened by the ice cream over that time.
“It was an outbreak that went on for five years,” Tauxe said. “But it was like one case a year. It was very intermittent.” The cases were so spread apart that normally, they would not have caught CDC’s attention.
“It was an outbreak that went on for five years."
Tauxe says Blue Bell is doing the right thing now by closing its factories, recalling all products and doing a deep clean. Listeria is especially problematic because it thrives in refrigerators and freezing doesn't kill it.
“Blue Bell is routinely a clean place,” Tauxe said. “But this outbreak puts Blue Bell on notice and I think it puts the entire ice cream industry on notice. They need to worry a good deal about Listeria.”
Listeria makes about 1,600 people sick every year in the United States and kills about 260, the CDC says. The very old, very young and pregnant women are most at risk. It causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea and can also cause meningitis.
"At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities. We continue to work with our team of experts to eliminate this problem," Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse said in a statement.
Maggie Fox is a senior writer for NBC News and TODAY, covering health policy, science, medical treatments and disease.
Listeriosis Linked to Blue Bell Ice Cream Wasn’t Cause of 3 Deaths
Blue Bell Great Divide Bar was one of the products sampled and found to have listeria bacteria, the FDA said.
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—A foodborne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products might have been a contributing factor in the deaths of three hospital patients in Kansas, health officials said Saturday.
But listeriosis didn’t cause the deaths, according to Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Sara Belfry.
Officials have not released the names of the five patients at Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kan., who developed listeriosis in after eating products from one production line at the Blue Bell creamery in Brenham, Texas.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the five individuals were older adults and three of them were women. The CDC did not specify the gender of those patients who died.
The five patients became ill with listeriosis during their hospitalizations for unrelated causes between December 2013 and January 2015. But hospital spokeswoman Maria Loving said she couldn’t discuss why the patients were hospitalized, citing patient confidentiality laws.
The moves have reduced the paychecks of hundreds of Jeni’s employees. For as much as a week, 73 production workers received just half of their normal pay, according to John Lowe, Jeni’s chief executive. Those employees resumed earning their typical wages this week, Mr. Lowe said, as the company begins to train them on new safety procedures.
But Jeni’s 20 retail locations remain closed, leaving more than 300 employees earning just a quarter of their normal pay.
In an interview, Mr. Lowe said that some employees picked up work with Jeni’s partners, like Jorgensen Farms, which grows mint near Jeni’s plant in Columbus.
Unlike Blue Bell, Jeni’s says it believes it has found the root of its listeria problems in a machine that loads ice cream into pint-size containers.
That machine, and all the others, will continue to be disassembled and cleaned every evening. But going forward, Mr. Lowe said, they will also be tested for listeria every morning.
In the meantime, the company has discarded 265 tons of ice cream, putting most of it into a machine that can process it for use in fertilizer.
Mr. Lowe estimated that over all, dealing with the listeria contamination would cost the privately held company $2.5 million to $3.5 million. The company’s annual revenue is about $25 million, he said.
Just two years ago, tracing Blue Bell’s ice cream to sick patients would have been more difficult for the C.D.C. than it is now. Its older detection methods employed by the agency’s network of laboratories, PulseNet, would identify a strain of listeria through its DNA. If that strain were comparable to say, a book, PulseNet might only have been able to match it to similar chapters and page numbers in patients.
A new program introduced in late 2013 allows the C.D.C. to map the entire genome of the strain of listeria, or to continue with the book example, can identify every single word.
“This is sort of the magic of molecular fingerprinting,” said Dr. Neil Fishman, the associate chief medical officer for the University of Pennsylvania health system. A few years ago, he added, “If there was listeria in South Carolina and listeria in Kansas, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to connect the two.”
Although no new cases of listeria have been linked to Blue Bell, Dr. Tauxe cautioned that listeria could stay alive when frozen, although it would not grow. While Blue Bell and Jeni’s have alerted consumers about the recall, contaminated ice cream could still be lurking in their freezers.
“The only question I have is whether there’s reason to believe there was enough there to get anyone sick,” Mr. Lowe said. Jeni’s is making a number of changes before its factory reopens. Because soil can contain listeria, the company will now process fruit off-site. And Jeni’s plans to hire an outside company that specializes in cleaning dairy facilities to handle its machinery every evening, Mr. Lowe said.
Blue Bell has discontinued a line of single-serve ice cream, which prompted the initial wave of recalls in March. The machinery used to make those products will also be discontinued, Mr. Robertson said.
In December, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, a high-end ice cream maker in Snohomish, Wash., withdrew all of its frozen desserts from stores after health officials linked two listeria cases at a hospital to tubs of its ice cream. The company overhauled its manufacturing practices and was cleared to begin shipping ice cream again 60 days later.
Ex-Blue Bell Creameries CEO charged in deadly listeria case
Authorities say the former president of Blue Bell Creameries has been charged with wire fraud for allegedly trying to cover up a 2015 listeria outbreak linked to the company’s ice cream that killed three people in Kansas and sickened several others
AUSTIN, Texas -- The former president of Blue Bell Creameries has been charged with wire fraud for allegedly trying to cover up a 2015 listeria outbreak linked to the company's ice cream that killed three people in Kansas and sickened several others, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
A federal grand jury in Austin returned a seven-count indictment Tuesday charging Paul Kruse with six counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to a Justice Department statement.
Health officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that two ice cream products from the company’s flagship factory in the central Texas city of Brenham and its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant tested positive for listeria. The bacterium can cause severe illness or even death in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.
Blue Bell recalled products after its ice cream was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.
Prosecutors allege that Kruse schemed to deceive Blue Bell customers by directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without alerting grocers and consumers as to why. They say he also directed employees to tell customers who asked that there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine. The company did not immediately recall the products or issue a formal warning to customers about potential contamination.
“American consumers trust that the individuals who lead food manufacturing companies will put the public safety before profits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Kruse's attorney, Chris Flood of Houston, said he would argue that the indictment came too late under the statute of limitations. “Furthermore, the charges aren't true,” he said. However, if the charges stand, he looked forward “to explaining what really happened in 2015 at Blue Bell.”
The indictment comes a little more than three months after a judge threw out previous charges against Kruse because prosecutors failed to present them to a grand jury. Kruse was initially charged May 1, the same day that Blue Bell Creameries pleaded guilty to two counts of distributing contaminated goods. The company was fined more than $17 million and agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle civil False Claims Act violations. Prosecutors said the total sum was the second-largest ever paid in a food-safety case.
Questions And Answers About Bacteria Listeria, Post Blue Bell, Sabra Recalls
WASHINGTON — Large food recalls have forced consumers to throw away hummus and ice cream that may be contaminated with the same potentially deadly bacteria — listeria.
Tainted Blue Bell ice cream products are linked to eight listeria illnesses in Kansas and Texas three of those who contracted the illness have died. Blue Bell has temporarily closed its facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and shut down a production line at its facility in Brenham, Texas, where the company is headquartered. Blue Bell has recalled more than two dozen of its products since last month.
Sabra Dipping Co. announced a recall of 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus due to possible listeria contamination this week, though no illnesses have been linked to that recall.
A look at the listeria bacteria and answers to questions that consumers may have:
Listeria is a hardy bacteria found in soil and water that can be carried by animals. It is often found in processed meats because it can contaminate a processing facility and stay there for a long period of time, and it can grow in the cold temperature of a refrigerator. It is also commonly found in unpasteurized cheeses and unpasteurized milk, and it is sometimes found in other foods as well — listeria in cantaloupes was linked to 30 deaths in a 2011 outbreak.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
When a person contracts the disease, it can cause fever, muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms and even death.
Listeria generally only affects the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies. Healthy, younger adults and most children can usually consume listeria with no ill effects or mild illness.
WHAT HAS BEEN RECALLED?
Blue Bell ice cream has recalled several products made on production lines in Texas and Oklahoma after the ice cream was linked to eight illnesses, including three deaths, inTexas and Kansas.
The nationwide Sabra hummus recall came after a product sample collected by Michigan agriculture officials tested positive for listeria there are no known illnesses related to that recall. A Sabra spokeswoman said the hummus was manufactured at its plant in Richmond, Virginia.
State and federal inspectors are still investigating the ice cream outbreak and have not released a cause. In past outbreaks, contamination has often been the result of dirty equipment or unsanitary conditions in a plant.
I THINK I MAY HAVE ONE OF THESE PRODUCTS IN MY HOME. WHAT DO I DO?
The government’s motto is “when in doubt, throw it out.” If you throw something away that you think might be tainted, place it in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash can to prevent animals or other people from eating it. The ice cream can have a shelf life of up to two years.
HOW CAN I PROTECT AGAINST LISTERIA?
In the case of the ice cream and hummus recalls, there is nothing you can do to prevent it — just throw away the food if you learn it has been recalled. Always clean surfaces that come into contact with food with hot, soapy water. With fruit, scrubbing is never a bad idea, but it may not rid produce of all contaminants.
In the case of the cantaloupe, the listeria likely hid on the fruit’s thick, rough skin. Health officials think people may have been sickened when people cut into their cantaloupes, bringing listeria on the outside of the fruit to the inside.
The government says the listeria bacteria can be killed by heating food to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until it is steaming hot just before serving it.
WHY IS LISTERIA SO DEADLY?
Listeria is less well known than other pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, which cause many more illnesses in tainted food every year. But one in five people who get sick from listeria can die. The people who get sick from listeria are often already weaker and more vulnerable to disease. (AP)
Investigators say Blue Bell ice cream had evidence of listeria in 2013
WASHINGTON — Blue Bell ice cream had evidence of listeria bacteria in its Oklahoma manufacturing plant as far back as March 2013, a government investigation released Thursday says. The company then continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the Food and Drug Administration says was inadequate cleaning.
Three listeria deaths in Kansas are now linked to the ice cream. The company recalled all of its products last month, following several smaller recalls.
The FDA released its investigations into Blue Bell’s plants in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama after a Freedom of Information request by The Associated Press. The most extensive violations were found in Oklahoma, where the FDA released 16 separate positive tests for listeria on equipment and in ice cream from March 2013 through January 2015.
Blue Bell did not immediately respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
Violations in the Oklahoma plant include dirty equipment, inadequate food storage, food being held at improper temperatures and employees not washing hands adequately.
There were also violations at the Texas and Alabama plants. In Alabama, FDA investigators observed at least two employees working with the food wearing soiled clothing. In Texas, investigators saw condensation dripping directly into food and onto surfaces that came directly in contact with food. In all of the plants, the FDA found dirty equipment and infrastructure that made cleaning difficult.
Listeria generally only affects the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and their newborn infants. It can cause fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms. The worst cases are fatal. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.
The bacteria are found in soil and water that can be tracked into a facility or carried by animals. Listeria can be very difficult to get rid of once it contaminates a processing facility, partly because it grows well in refrigeration. It is commonly found in processed meats, unpasteurized cheeses and unpasteurized milk, and it is sometimes found in other foods as well — listeria in cantaloupes was linked to 30 deaths in a 2011 outbreak.
Left: Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following Listeria contamination that caused at least 10 illnesses and 3 deaths. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Blue Bell Expands Recall After More Samples Test Positive For Listeria Contamination
Thanks for visiting Consumerist.com. As of October 2017, Consumerist is no longer producing new content, but feel free to browse through our archives. Here you can find 12 years worth of articles on everything from how to avoid dodgy scams to writing an effective complaint letter. Check out some of our greatest hits below, explore the categories listed on the left-hand side of the page, or head to CR.org for ratings, reviews, and consumer news.
Blue Bell Expands Recall After More Samples Test Positive For Listeria Contamination
Blue Bell Creameries expanded its recall of products possibly contaminated with listeria to include single-serve tab ice cream containers.
Blue Bell Creameries expanded a recent recall of products after tests found additional products may be linked to an outbreak of listeriosis that resulted in at least three deaths.
The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas-based Blue Bell has recalled three-ounce institutional/food service chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream cups with tab lids after determining the treats have a potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The expanded recall was initiated after an ice cream cup produced at the company’s Oklahoma plant tested positive for Listeria.
Over the weekend, the Kansas Department of Health & Environment reported one positive test for Listeria in a product recovered from a Wichita-area hospital, the Dallas Morning News reports.
The ice cream cup – which is not available for sale in retail outlets – was produced in a Broken Arrow, OK, plant on April 15, 2014.
According to Blue Bell, the ice cream cups were distributed to food service customers in 23 states. They can be identified by the following information:
• Ice Cream Cup Chocolate (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #453
• Ice Cream Cup Strawberry (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #452
• Ice Cream Cup Vanilla (3 FL OZ) No UPC – SKU #451
The expanded recall does not include Blue Bell Ice Cream half gallons, pints, quarts, three gallons or other three-ounce cups.
Blue Bell’s latest recall comes just a week after it was first reported that the company’s products had been linked to an outbreak of listeriosis that resulted in five people in Kansas becoming sick and three later died.
The five people who became ill in Kansas were confirmed to be infected with one of four strains of Listeria monocytogenes. All five people – older in age – were hospitalized at the same hospital for unrelated problems before developing invasive listeriosis, suggesting they were infected at the hospital, the CDC reports.
Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the illnesses began between January 2014 and January 2015. Although some of the illnesses began more than a year ago, the listeria cluster identified earlier this month shows that some of the infections are indistinguishable, meaning they are likely from the same source.
Of the patients infected, four consumed milkshakes made with a single serving Blue Bell brand ice cream called “Scoops” while they were in the hospital.
In response to the investigation and the findings of Listeria monocytogenes, Blue Bell Creameries issued a recall and removed several products from the market including Scoops, Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars.
Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.