Blue Bell Discovers What Causes Listeria: 'Root Cause Assessment Reports' Provide Answers

Mar 29, 2016 07:58 PM EDT | By Chandan Das

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Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination.
Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination.
(Photo : Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Good news for the iconic Blue Bell ice cream aficionados. The company has started supplying its ice cream to a vast area in the southeast, counting almost all places south of New Mexico and extending to the two Carolinas. Although Blue Bell is yet to restore supplies of all the 66 flavors, which were available before the company was linked to a multi-state Listeria outbreak, which claimed three lives.

Soon after the outbreak and the deaths, the Brenham, TX-based manufacturer recalled all its products on the market as well as those that were produced by its various facilities such as ice cream, sherbet, yogurt and frozen snacks.

The Listeriosis outbreak was not only unusual but also complex and caused ten people in four states fall ill between 2010 and 2015. All the affected people required hospitalizations and eventually three patients died. Aside from recalling their products in 2015, Blue Bell also closed its production facilities located in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, thereby leaving its customers without the "nation's best ice cream."

However, Blue Bell, the fourth largest ice cream manufacturer in the United States, resumed business by the end of last year, and currently, it has restored supplies in nearly all of its old territory, Food Safety News reported.

Nevertheless, the company is still working on its comeback following a major outbreak. Blue Bell submitted a "root cause assessment reports" to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 12, wherein the company officials reported the steps initiated at its Brenham, TX, and Broken Arrow, OK, facilities with a view to identifying as well as fix Listeria problems.

It is worth mentioning here that Listeria strains were detected in ice cream products produced in the company's Texas as well as Oklahoma facilities.

According to the "root cause assessment report"submitted by Blue Bell to the FDA, following the detection of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in certain ice cream  products made at the company's Brenham facility, they initiated investigation, sampling, as well as remediation efforts with a view to check the situation. Eventually, the company decided to shut down the facilities voluntarily, the report stated.

Even as the operations were suspended, the company continued to concentrate on the potential sources of the Listeria and also sought the help of outside experts. The objective was to control and get rid of potential sources of Listeria within their facilities.

According to the report, Listeria was found on the equipment and facility design and employee practices at the Brenham facility, where some equipment was "disassembled and thoroughly cleaned." At the same time, the company removed other equipment from the facility and supposedly replaced them. In the Oklahoma facility, the company discovered a drain in a room, where equipment was stored after cleaning, was emitting Listeria.

The reports were published on March 24, 2016.

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