Newly released documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that Blue Bell Creameries knew about the presence of listeria in one of its factories since as early as 2013. The agency’s report indicates that the company still did not take proper action to sufficiently improve its cleaning and manufacturing practices. Last month, Blue Bell recalled all of its products last month due to listeria contamination. Their tainted products were linked to 10 illnesses, including three deaths in Kansas. The FDA says some of the cases occurred as early as 2011. The recall prompted a shutdown of the company’s factories and a cessation of products. After weeks of testing, Blue Bell is still unable to find the source of contamination.
Federal health inspectors detected harmful food-borne pathogens in the Broken Arrow plant in 2013, documents shows. The FDA report indicated that Blue Bell still “failed to demonstrate” that it removes 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,”
In a statement, Blue Bell said 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.”
Listeria contamination has triggered other recent recalls, but 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.
Listeria is a persistent, tricky bacteria. Contamination can be difficult to manage because it can survive in many places for a long period of time. Listeria can be present in a factory for years living in a cool, moist area and can be tracked in through 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.