It's been less than a month since Blue Bell issued a "precautionary" recall for ice cream made in July and August at the plant in Sylacauga, Alabama, because of concerns over possible listeria monocytogenes, and the company has already issued another voluntary recall, expanding on its first move to pull cookie dough-based flavored ice cream off the shelves.
In September Blue Bell blamed the potential contamination squarely on Aspen Hills, the third-party manufacturer of the cookie dough used in Blue Bell products, but on Monday the company announced more ice cream should be removed from stores. Once again it's because of potential listeria contamination in cookie dough-flavored ice cream.
Somewhere in some well-appointed office at Blue Bell headquarters in Brenham, someone is steadily thumping his head against a desk out of sheer exasperation. Why? Because the little creamery in Brenham, after surviving the discovery of a listeria infestation in its ice cream facilities last year that forced the company to ultimately recall all of its products, lay off and furlough most of its employees, as we reported in our 2015 cover story, "A Sticky Mess," is facing another listeria problem.
Last fall, after it was common knowledge that the company had been testing positive for listeria in its plants for at least five years, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the company's owners sold a portion of the family-owned business in exchange for an emergency injection of cash and confidence from Fort Worth oilman Sid Bass to survive.
At the time, they may have thought the worst was behind them, but while the public proved happy to forget all of Blue Bell's issues with selling contaminated, untested listeria-laced ice cream for years, it's a bit more difficult to shake off the actual listeria.
(Listeria is a bacteria that can cause food poisoning and other diseases, particularly among the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. It thrives in cool, damp places like, well, ice cream factories. In some cases people have had to burn down facilities and rebuild to be able to actually get the listeria out.)
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The latest expanded recall now covers frozen treats sold to both retail stores and food service accounts — like schools, nursing homes and other larger organizations — located in 16 states: Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The products Blue Bell is yanking from the shelves are listed in the release:
"This recall includes the following products in half gallons and pints, Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Blue Bell Cookie Two Step sold to retail outlets, and three gallon flavors sold to food service accounts including Blue Bell Blue Monster, Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Blue Bell Krazy Kookie Dough. These products were produced from February 2, 2016 through September 7, 2016."
So yeah, Blue Bell was almost out of the bacteria-tinged quagmire it has been wading through, but just when it seemed the company was out, the chance of more listeria-contaminated products is pulling it back in.