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Blue Bell puts all products on ice

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

It started as a drip-by-drip recall, but on Monday, April 20, officials with Blue Bell Ice Creamery at Brenham voluntarily recalled all of the company's products currently on the market.
Due to a potential for contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, the latest recall includes ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks made at all Blue Bell facilities. Blue Bell manufacturing plants are located in Brenham; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; and Sylacauga, Alabama. The Federal Drug Administration has opened investigations at all of these facilities.
The organism Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems.
Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
"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."
Kruse continued, "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."
Locally, the owners or managers of all stores that sell Blue Bell have been apprised of the recall. Glen McComb, owner of the Bandera General Store, said the company would buy back the inventory on hand. "We've closed the fountain area and hopefully we'll be restocked before summer's here," he said. "This is really going to hurt us on Saturdays."
As previously reported in the Courier, the first recall in the family-owned creamery's 108-year history was issued in March. At that time, investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked ice cream contaminated with listeria to three deaths at a Kansas hospital. Two other patients in Kansas and three in Texas were also treated after testing positive for Listeria monocytogenes linked to the consumption of Blue Bell products.
In response to the crisis, the company has enlisted the services of "the world's most respected food safety microbiologists" to inspect production facilities and systems to ascertain how the contamination occurred.
"At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities," Kruse noted. "We continue to work with our team of experts to eliminate this problem."
Products in this latest recall had been 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 and Wyoming, as well as to international locations.
Monday's decision came after an enhanced sampling program initiated by Blue Bell revealed the bacteria present in half gallons of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream. The affected product was produced on March 17, and March 27 at the Blue Bell facility in Brenham. The bacterial findings confirmed that Blue Bell has had several positive tests for Listeria at different places and manufacturing facilities.
As a result, Blue Bell officials have implemented a "test and hold" procedure for their products. In this procedure, all products released will be tested first and held for release to the market only after the tests show those products are safe from contamination.
Additionally, Blue Bell officials will implement additional safety procedures and testing that include:
• Expanding an already robust system of daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment.
• Expanding the current system of swabbing and testing plants environment by 800 percent to include more surfaces.
• Sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing.
• Providing additional employee training.
Distribution of Blue Bell is expected to resume on a limited basis once the safety of its ice cream products has been confirmed. However, the products could be off the market for two to three weeks, according to reports.
Consumers who have purchased Blue Bell products are urged not to consume them but rather return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. For concerns or questions, call 1-866-608-3940 from 8 am to 8 pm, CST, Monday through Friday, and 10 am to 2 pm, CST, Saturday, or www.bluebell.com for current information.