The recent announcement that Blue Bell would recall all its ice cream products
from every Blue Bell manufacturing facility may have raised more questions
than it has answered. Blue Bell CEO and President, Paul Kruse, stated
the best way to do the “right thing” was to remove all products
from the market until it is determined they are safe for consumer consumption.
The products in question have the
potential to be contaminated with the Listeria bacteria.
What is Listeria?
Listeria can lead to a serious, even fatal infection. The most vulnerable
groups include those with weakened immune systems, young children and
frail or elderly people. Healthy individuals who contract the listeria
infection would likely suffer fever above 101 degrees, an acute headache,
which does not abate, pain in the abdomen, nausea, stiffness and diarrhea
for a relatively short period. Pregnant women are at particular risk as
Listeria has been found to cause stillbirths and miscarriages. Kruse stated
the Blue Bell Corporation is “heartbroken” about the situation
and fully intends to fix the problem.
How Extensive is the Recall?
The recalled products were distributed to twenty-one states, in retail
outlets, convenience stores, supermarkets, and food service accounts.
Initially, a sampling of Blue Bell’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Ice Cream in half gallons tested positive for Listeria in various plants.
Over the past year, three people in Kansas are believed to have died from
eating Blue Bell products tainted with Listeria. An additional five people
in Kansas, one in Oklahoma, one in Arizona and three in Texas also became
ill after eating Blue Bell products. The five people who fell ill in Kansas
were all patients being treated at the same hospital; four of them drank
milkshakes at the hospital made with Blue Bell ice cream. It is not clear
whether the fifth patient at the Kansas hospital consumed Blue Bell ice cream.
Listeria Associated with Blue Bell Plants as Far Back as 2010?
This is not the first time Blue Bell has dealt with Listeria issues. In
fact, the CDC believes that as far back as January 2010, patients who
suffered Listeria illnesses can possibly be tied to the current outbreak
of Listeria in Blue Bell products. This determination was made using PulseNet,
a database of bacterial DNA. PulseNet is a national laboratory network
made up of 87 laboratories with at least one in each state. Foodborne
illnesses are connected by using DNA bacterial “fingerprinting”.
PulseNet tracks what the CDC reports today and compares it to what was
reported in the past. Since PulseNet’s creation, more than a half
billion pounds of contaminated food have been recalled, increasing consumer
safety. Because of the complexities involved in food preparation, production
and distribution, it is virtually impossible to completely eradicate foodborne
disease, however tools such as PulseNet currently offer the best way to
identify food safety issues.
Listeria Bacteria “Lurking” in Blue Bell Factories for Years?
The origin of the Blue Bell Listeria strain is not yet known; however,
the fact it was the same strain over the past five years leads officials
to believe the listeria may have been lurking in a factory the entire
time. The Listeria strains found in Blue Bell plants in Texas, however,
are different than those found in Oklahoma. Blue Bell is currently implementing
a procedure known as “test and hold” for every product in
every manufacturing facility. Blue Bell products will be tested, and then
held for market release until test results confirm safety. Blue Bell uses
pasteurized milk, eliminating milk as a means of introducing the Listeria
bacteria into the ice cream, however the bacteria could have been carried
on a food such as nuts or other ingredients, which go into Blue Bell ice
cream flavors. Additionally, officials say that the Listeria bacteria
can live for years on surfaces such as pipes and drains.
What Happens Next?
The Broken Arrow facility in Oklahoma will be closed until the results
of the investigation are analyzed. CEO Kruse stated the daily sanitizing
and cleaning routines of all equipment would be expanded, with the company’s
current system of swabbing and testing the plant environment being expanded
by 800 percent. Daily samples will be sent from the plants to microbiology
labs for testing and additional employee training will be implemented.
As soon as Blue Bell is confident the safety of its products has been
restored, distribution will resume. Consumers who have purchased Blue
Bell items can return them to the place of purchase and receive a full
refund. Until that time, the CDC recommends consumers refrain from eating
Blue Bell products.
Philadelphia Consumer Protection Lawyers
If you or someone you love has suffered an injury because of food contamination,
such as listeria, you may be able to file a lawsuit. To learn more about
your consumer rights and legal options, call the Philadelphia consumer
lawyers at Golomb & Honik today.