Texas Penalized Blue Bell $850,000 (But It May Only Pay a Fraction of That)

Texas Penalized Blue Bell $850,000 (But It May Only Pay a Fraction of That)
Photo by Ruthie Johnson Miller

The other shoe has finally fallen for Blue Bell, the Brenham creamery that launched a massive recall last year after regulators found listeria in its products. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services last week issued a $850,000 penalty to the company, but Blue Bell may only end up paying a fraction of that, an agreement with the company reads. That's because once Blue Bell pays an initial $175,000 within 30 days, the company won't have to pay a dime more as long as it follows new guidelines set by the state for the next 18 months.

Under the new rules, Blue Bell must notify the state of any positive tests for listeria at its Brenham plant, ensure ice cream is "found to be free of pathogens" before sale and continue to allow state inspectors access to its plant.

In a statement, Blue Bell said it has worked with state regulators since last May to improve product safety and planned to follow the new rules.

"We are pleased with the steps that have been taken in our facilities and confident that we are producing safe products that our customers can enjoy," the statement read.

We've covered the recall and its fallout for more than a year, including the July 2015 cover story "A Sticky Mess." The outbreak made about a dozen people sick and may have killed at least three, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state ruling last week only affects the Blue Bell plant in Brenham, though the company also has facilities in Oklahoma and Alabama. Last year, Blue Bell reached agreement with both of those states to resume production in a safe manner.

Blue Bell's troubles may not be behind it, however. CBS News reported last December that the federal Department of Justice was investigating when company officials first knew of listeria at Blue Bell plants. The government has yet to bring any charges. The creamery also faces a civil lawsuit from former Houston resident David Shockley, who alleges he became severely ill after consuming Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with listeria. 

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