FDA Documents Show Blue Bell Knew of Listeria Problems Since 2013May 11, 2015
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released documents indicating that Blue Bell Creameries was aware that one of its factories had listeria since as early as 2013, New York Times reports. The FDA report shows that despite knowing about the presence of listeria, the company still did not sufficiently improve its cleaning and manufacturing practices. Blue Bell recalled all of its products last month due to listeria contamination, which was linked to 10 illnesses; three patients died in Kansas. According to the FDA, some of the cases occurred as early as 2011. All of the company's factories have been shut down in light of the recall.
Blue Bell said in a statement that listeria was found in its plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2013. The company admitted that its cleaning methods were inadequate. "As is standard procedure for any such positive results, the company would immediately clean the surfaces and swab until the tests were negative," Blue Bell told NYT. "We thought our cleaning process took care of any problems, but in hindsight, it was not adequate, which is why we are currently conducting such a comprehensive re-evaluation of all our operations."
In 2013, federal health inspectors found that many nonfood surfaces contained harmful food-borne pathogens in the Broken Arrow plant. The FDA report indicated that Blue Bell still "failed to demonstrate" that it improved its cleaning procedures to address the issue, stating "The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent drip and condensate from contaminating food, food-contact surfaces and food-packaging materials,"
After weeks of testing, Blue Bell is still unable to find the source of contamination.
Listeria is a resilient bacteria that can be difficult to eliminate because it can survive in many places for a long period of time. The bug can live in cool, moist areas of a factory for years and hide in places such as raw milk and soil on the bottom of a shoe. Dr. Rob Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's division of food-borne, waterborne and environmental diseases, said "It can hide in the nooks and crannies of machinery, underneath a slime layer, say, and it can be hard to get rid of," according to NYT.
Other recalls have been issued recently due to listeria contamination, although Blue Bell's is the worst. Last month, Ohio-based Jeni's Splendid Ice creams recalled all of its products due to listeria contamination. No illnesses have been reported so far.