Blue Bell admits it knew about factory listeria contamination linked to recall as far back as 2013

by Eric Pearson

Documents released by the Food and Drug Administration have revealed that Blue Bell Creameries knew about bacterial contamination at its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant as far back as 2013. Blue Bell issued a complete recall of its entire product line last month following a listeria outbreak linked to the contamination at the Broken Arrow plant and other Blue Bell facilities.

According to the documents, FDA inspectors first uncovered traces of listeria contamination on a freezer floor at Blue Bell’s Broken Arrow plant in March 2013. Subsequent testing by the FDA uncovered five additional cases of listeria contamination in 2013, 10 cases in 2014, and an additional case in 2015.

Joe Robertson, a spokesman for Blue Bell, acknowledged that the company knew about the positive tests in a statement released following news about the FDA report:

“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.”

Robertson stated that following the positive tests, Blue Bell would clean the contaminated surfaces and re-test them in order to make sure that they were free from listeria.

However, the FDA stated in a letter to Blue Bell that the company’s cleaning and sanitizing procedures were inadequate for ensuring that the factory was free from listeria contamination.

“You failed to demonstrate your cleaning and sanitizing program is effective in controlling recurring microbiological contaminations. You continued to have presumptive positive environmental test results for Listeria spp. and elevated total coliform results following the daily cleaning and sanitizing treatments of your equipment and facilities.”

Blue Bell recalled full product line following illnesses reports

As we recently reported, Blue Bell issued a recall of its entire product line last month following multiple reports of illnesses linked to listeria contamination at its facilities. Over the last year, Blue Bell products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes have been linked to at least four deaths and 10 cases of illness across Texas and other states.

Listeria monocytogenes is a food-borne bacteria that can cause illness or death in vulnerable individuals, including children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Symptoms of listeriosis—the illness caused by exposure to listeria bacteria—may include fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Symptoms of listeria monocytogenes may appear anywhere from a few days to several weeks after eating contaminated food.

After reports emerged of illnesses linked to Blue Bell products contaminated with listeria, Blue Bell issued several partial recalls of its products before finally recalling its complete product line of ice creams, frozen yogurt, and other frozen treats in April.

According to a CDC press release announcing the recall, potentially-contaminated Blue Bell products were sold at retail stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as some international locations. The recalled products were manufactured at the company’s plant in Sylacauga, Alabama; Brenham, Texas; and the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma facility named in the FDA reports.

Consumers Sickened by Food Borne Illnesses May Qualify to File a Lawsuit

Individuals who have developed food-borne illnesses caused by exposure to contaminated Blue Bell products may qualify to file a lawsuit and seek compensation. Lawsuits involving food-borne illnesses are based on the idea that consumers were sold a defective product that caused injury to themselves or a loved one.

Many states have adopted strict product liability laws, meaning that a consumer only needs to demonstrate that the food they have eaten was contaminated and that this contamination was the cause of their illness. Consumers may also be able to pursue a claim for negligence by demonstrating that the company that produced the contaminated food product failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing the contamination from occurring.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have seen lawsuits over food-borne illnesses involving E. coli, salmonella, Listeria, and botulism. Although it can be quite difficult to prove a link between the food you ate and contamination, our attorneys have the knowledge and experience in product liability and personal injury litigation to handle your case from start to finish. Our lawyers approach every case with the assumption it will be tried to a jury. Whether it’s hiring the right experts, obtaining the necessary records, interviewing the key witnesses or helping our clients get the medical care they need, our meticulous attention to detail ensures that our clients achieve maximum value for their claim.

If you have been seriously injured, or a friend or loved one was injured or killed, by illnesses caused by Blue Bell ice cream or other products, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for your free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free legal consultation form and answering a few simple questions about your situation.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.