America’s Third-Biggest Ice Cream Maker Issues Total Recall After Listeria Deaths

Eight people have fallen ill in the weeks since the company began testing.

(Photo: Flickr)

Apr 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

On Monday afternoon, Blue Bell Creamery, America's third-largest ice cream manufacturer—trailing only Breyers and Dreyer's—announced that it was recalling all its products because of Listeria contamination.

After three hospital patients in Kansas died from Listeria infections that authorities believe came from milk shakes made with tainted Blue Bell ice cream, the company launched an "enhanced sampling program" in which products from all 57 of its distribution centers were tested.

"Blue Bell has now had several positive tests for Listeria in different places and plants," the company said in a written statement. "At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities, and so we have taken this unprecedented step."

The setback comes a few years after the Texas-based creamery's first expansion in decades. In 2012, Blue Bell spent $14 million renovating its factories, which included a 100,000-square-foot addition to the production floor and an automated packaging and retrieval system for the pallets of ice cream.

Though cases of listeriosis have declined by 42 percent since 1996, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are still about 1,600 cases reported in the U.S. each year, leading to 260 deaths. The biggest recent incident came in 2011, when tainted cantaloupes caused 147 illnesses and 33 deaths. To avoid a potential repeat of that, America’s largest food-borne illness outbreak in over a century, Blue Bell voluntarily pulled all its products from the market.

"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 safe," Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, said in a statement.