Blue Bell Creameries has reached a voluntary agreement with the Alabama Department of Health to overhaul its ice cream production and testing processes at its temporarily shuttered Sylacauga plant in the wake of a deadly Listeria outbreak traced to its products.
The Brenham, Texas-based company had already reached similar agreements in May with health officials in Texas, where it operates two Brenham plants, and Oklahoma, where it operates a plant in Broken Arrow. All four of its facilities are currently closed.
The agreement with Alabama regulators requires Blue Bell to take a series of measures before its products can be sold in the state again. There is still no timeline for when the company’s facilities will resume production, but its products will be made in limited quantities when operations start again and they will be phased back into the market over time.
After a series of smaller recalls, Blue Bell recalled all of its products from all of its plants on April 20. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked an outbreak of listeriosis in four states that is blamed for hundreds of illnesses and three deaths to the Blue Bell products. The CDC usually warns in outbreaks of food poisoning that the problem is much more extensive than its official number indicates because most cases go unreported.
In a June 1 announcement, Blue Bell CEO and president Paul Kruse said the shut-down and overhaul of its production “will reassure our customers that we are taking the necessary steps to bring Blue Bell Ice Cream back to the market.”
“We are committed to making these changes so that we meet the high standards and expectations of our customers and our regulatory agencies. Blue Bell will also continue to work cooperatively and transparently with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” Mr. Kruse said.
Blue Bell’s contamination problems have been disastrous to the company and hundreds of its employees. In addition to temporarily closing its plants, the company has also shut down 13 distribution centers in 10 states. The closures have led to the layoff of 1,450 employees, and furloughs with pay cuts to 1,400 others.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration records show that its inspections of Blue Bell’s Texas facilities from 2007 to 2012 found numerous health and safety violations that may have gone uncorrected and contributed to the listeria contamination.
Source: Food Safety News