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Blue Bell Creameries Expand Recall to All Products Because of Listeria Outbreak

Apr 22, 2015

Blue Bell Creameries, which distributes frozen desserts to about half of the United States, voluntarily expanded its product recall to include all of its products after the bacteria Listeria was found in two half-gallon containers of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream last month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated this week that tests indicated Blue Bell products from plants in Texas and Oklahoma were the source of a Listeria outbreak that infected five adults in Kansas, three of whom died. Three adults in Texas were also sickened in the last four years, the New York Times reports.

The CDC described this as "a complex and ongoing multistate outbreak of listeriosis occurring over an extended period." Paul Kruse, Blue Bell's chief executive and president, offered an apology in a video on the company's web site, the Times reports. "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," Kruse said in a news release.

Listeria bacteria, which can be present in raw milk, can cause severe infections in infants, the elderly, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC. Healthy children and adults occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Listeriosis can also lead to miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women. Symptoms can begin anywhere from three to 70 days after the bacteria is ingested.

Five people in Kansas were sickened from January 2014 through January 2015 while they were hospitalized for unrelated conditions, according to the CDC. Four of the patients are known to have had milkshakes at the hospital made with a Blue Bell ice cream called Scoops and two other products made at Blue Bell's plant in Brenham, Texas, the Times reports. The Texas patients also developed listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria bacteria, after being hospitalized from 2011 through 2014. Tests confirmed that the genome of the strains with which they were infected "were nearly identical" to strains found at Blue Bell's plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The CDC said tests are being conducted to see whether three other patients infected with listeriosis between 2010 and 2012 were related to the Blue Bell outbreak.

Blue Bell began recalling products on March 13 after health authorities said they suspected a connection between the Kansas infections and products made at Blue Bell's Texas plant. A second recall was announced on March 23, after Listeria strains were found in products made at its Oklahoma plant, the Times reports. Kruse said the company "cannot say with certainty how listeria was introduced to our facilities," and is continuing to investigate, as the company undertakes cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and surfaces at the plants. Samples are being sent daily for testing.

Blue Bell produces ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks. The recalled products were distributed in about two dozen states, and internationally. Two Philippine distributors of Blue Bell are participating in the recall.

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