Feds Probe Blue Bell Handling of Listeria Outbreak
As Brenham, Texas-headquartered Blue Bell Ice Cream gets ready to enter phase five of its market re-entry plan over a two-week period beginning January 18, The Wall Street Journal and several television news networks have reported that the United States Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the company regarding Listeria monocytogenes contamination of cream it produced that was linked to three deaths last year. Government lawyers are said to be looking into what executives knew about Listeria in its plants and potentially its products, and what they did in response to the problem.
Blue Bell Creameries launched a complete recall of its entire line of ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and other frozen treats distributed in 22 states and abroad last April after an FDA investigation found Listeria in three production plants.
Following the outbreak and voluntary recall, the company upgraded production lines and processes “to make our facilities even better, and to ensure that everything we produce is safe, wholesome and of the highest quality,” said Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing.
Ice cream production resumed in July and distribution to select markets began on August 31. Due to the limited capacity while initially producing at only one facility, re-entry to all markets was scheduled in five phases, with the final phase covering retail outlets in the Southeastern United States.
“Our fans in phase five have been waiting on this news for a long time,” said Dickson. “We will begin filling stores on January 18, but due to the size of the area and the number of stores to be serviced, it will take additional time to deliver to all locations. All of us at Blue Bell are very thankful for the patience and support our customers have shown during this time.”
At the completion of this phase all of the company’s furloughed employees will have returned to work.
Prior to the fifth phase, Blue Bell will enter a bonus phase on January 11, which includes the El Paso, Texas, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, areas.
“Upon the completion of phase five, we will turn our attention to building inventory for the spring as well as adding additional products and flavors to our line-up,” Dickson added. “Even though we do not have a specific date, we plan to expand our sales territory whenever we are properly positioned to do so.”
For now Blue Bell is producing the following flavors of ice cream: Buttered Pecan, Cookies ’n Cream, Dutch Chocolate, Homemade Vanilla, Peppermint, Pistachio Almond and The Great Divide. 12-pak Homemade Vanilla Cups and 12-pack Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate Cups are also available in stores.