Can a food-borne illness outbreak really last for five years without anyone taking action?
If federal investigators are proven correct, that could very well be what the outcome of a criminal investigation aimed at Blue Bell Creameries shows. Scientific evidence points to the possibility of a strain of listeria that was allowed to live in Blue Bell facilities since 2010.
The resulting listeriosis illnesses sickened at least ten people. Three people died.
According to CNN, real action to combat the germ was only taken by Blue Bell in April of 2015. The company issued a recall in 23 states to pull its ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and other frozen foods off of the shelves of its distributors. Attributing the recall to listeria discovered “on the lid of a service cup the month before” the company set in motion a series of events that may lead to more questions than answers.
This timeline and the associated attribution is corroborated on Blue Bell’s own website. In a statement issued on April 6th, the company stated that they “suspended operations” at an Oklahoma plant “out of “an abundance of caution” because of “a three-ounce institutional/food service chocolate cup that tested positive” for listeria. The title of the page states that this is the first recall for the company in 108 years.
A CDC analysis of the listeria identified it as a strain that had been previously identified and dated back to 2010. If a strain of listeria was discovered living in Blue Bell Creameries’ facilities that dates back to 2010, how is this the company’s first recall? But, perhaps more importantly, how is this strain of listeria still alive and well in a Blue Bell facility?
Blue Bell Creameries will start re-stocking the majority of their distributors with product in the middle of January. Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida retailers will start seeing the re-introduction of the full range of Blue Bell products during this time. However, Oklahoma and Texas retailers have been receiving Blue Bell products since August of last year; just four months after the initial announcement of the recall.
This timeline suggests one of two things: either Blue Bell Creameries was able to clean up a listeria outbreak in just a few months that had lived in its facilities for 5 years, or an investigation will show that company executives knew about the listeria for years and failed to act on it; resulting in the deaths of three people.
Prosecutors are actively engaged in determining the answer to that very question.