Blue Bell recalls all products after more Listeria bacterial contamination cases found in Texas, other states

by Eric Pearson

Blue Bell Creameries has issued a complete recall of its entire product line of ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and other frozen treats in response to multiple reports of bacterial contamination at the company’s plants. 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 over the past year.

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 monocytogenes bacteria—can including 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.

Concerns about Listeria contamination in Blue Bell products first arose in March, when Listeria contamination was detected in ice cream samples collected by South Carolina health officials. Officials in Kansas determined that Blue Bell ice cream that was contaminated with Listeria was linked to five hospital patients who became ill after eating the ice cream, including three who died. The Kansas officials traced the contamination to the Blue Bell plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, prompting the company to issue a recall for 3-ounce cups of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream that were produced at the plant. Blue Bell later expanded this recall in April to include some pints and half-gallon sizes of ice cream.

Subsequent testing by the CDC traced the Blue Bell Listeria strain to other cases of Listeriosis dating back to 2010. Additional test by the agency identified other patients in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kansas that had become ill as a result of eating Listeria contaminated products manufactured at Blue Bell plants in Texas and Oklahoma. After the latest tests uncovered Listeria contamination in half-gallon containers of Blue Bell’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, the company decided to issue a nationwide recall for its entire line of products.

CDC officials said that because cases of Listeria contamination linked to Blue Bell ice cream went back several years, it is possible that the company’s facilities had been contaminated for some time. Officials have ruled out milk as the source of the contamination because it is pasteurized before being used for ice cream, but said that other food products—including nuts—may have been the source of the contamination.

According to a CDC press release announcing the expanded Blue Bell recall, the potentially-contaminated 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 and Brenham, Texas, as well as the Oklahoma facility involved in the initial Blue Bell recall.

Consumers who have already purchased Blue Bell products are advised by the CDC to throw them away or return them for a refund, even if they have been partially eaten without symptoms of illness. Refrigerators, food preparation surfaces, and utensils that may have come into contact with the recalled Blue Bell products should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized with chlorine bleach in order to prevent potential contamination with Listeria.

Blue Bell has announced that it will close its plants in Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama for one to two weeks in order to conduct an extensive cleaning of the facilities. The FDA has stated that its investigation into the Blue Bell Listeria contamination will remain open at all three plants until it is satisfied that the company has eliminated further risks of food-borne illnesses caused by its products.

Food-Borne Illnesses Can Be Deadly

The Blue Bell recall is the latest in a series of high profile cases linking food products to Listeria outbreaks in the U.S. Earlier this year, the Sabra Dipping Company recalled 30,000 cases of its Classic Hummus after grocery store samples tested positive for Listeria. This month, another ice cream company—Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio—also recalled its entire product line as a result of Listeria contamination that was detected in samples collected by Nebraska health inspectors.

This increase in food product recalls due to bacterial contamination comes at a time when federal and state health officials are placing an increased emphasis on fighting food-borne illnesses. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act—passed by Congress in 2011—federal and state health officials will have more power to share resources in order to detect and eliminate contaminated food products before they can cause widespread illness.

These increased efforts are due in part to the terrible costs that results from outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. At least 33 individuals died in 2011 as a result of an outbreak in 28 states caused by contaminated cantaloupe that were grown in Colorado. More recently, nine individuals died and at least 700 became ill after eating salmonella-contaminated peanut products that were produced in Georgia. Contaminated eggs that were produced in Iowa sickened more than 2,000 people with salmonella in 2010.

Consumers Sickened By Contaminated Food Have Legal Rights

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured as a result of illnesses caused by food poisoning, you may be file a lawsuit and seek compensation. The first step in filing a lawsuit is to secure the assistance of experienced, knowledgeable attorneys to guide you through the legal process.

Food poisoning lawsuits are based on the idea that you have been sold a defective product that has injured you. 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 the contamination was the cause of their illness. Consumer sickened by food-borne illnesses may also be able to pursue a claim for negligence by demonstrating that the company that produced the contaminated food product was not reasonably careful.

Our law firm has seen food poisoning litigation involving E. coli, salmonella, Listeria, and botulism. It can be quite difficult to prove a link between the food you ate and contamination. Sometimes a government health agency has traced an outbreak of food poisoning to a particular source. Scientific testing is often necessary to determine the particular type of disease-causing microbes that were present in the contaminated food involved.

It takes considerable resources to successfully pursue a claim against a major food producer, large national retailer or franchise restaurant. The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson 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 and you feel a retailer, restaurant or food producer may be responsible, 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.

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.