This time around the contamination that caused Blue Bell to recall some of its products in October, just as Blue Bell seemed to be regaining its footing in the wake of the company's own 2015 listeria outbreak scandal, wasn't Blue Bell's fault, according to Food and Drug Administration findings.
Using genome sequencing, the FDA traced the listeria found in the ice cream back to Aspen Hills, the Iowa-based company that produced the chocolate chip cookie dough that Blue Bell and other ice cream manufacturers used in their products.
The company owners tried to remedy the situation, as the FDA notes in a warning letter issued in January:
"We acknowledge after our findings, your firm took extensive corrective actions. This included hiring a third-party laboratory and consultant group to conduct a comprehensive review of your operations and to make recommendations for changes in your policy and procedures. It also included revising your Standard Operating Procedures ("SOPs") in three critical areas: (1) environmental pathogen monitoring; (2) product sampling and testing; and (3) cleaning and sanitizing facilities. We will ascertain the adequacy of your corrective actions during our next inspection."
The agency also noted that Aspen Hills conducted a voluntary recall as a result of the FDA findings, but despite all this, the owners of Aspen Hills recently announced they are going to leave the company and that they may sell it, according to the Houston Chronicle. Aspen Hills hasn't been operating since December.
Meanwhile, Blue Bell credits its new testing program with helping the company identify listeria in Blue Bell ice cream.
Blue Bell officials must also be breathing a sigh of relief as they stroll along the moral high road on this issue. After all, it wasn't Blue Bell that was manufacturing listeria-tainted ice cream this time around. Aspen Hills, on the other hand, is going down the road that Blue Bell nearly careened down back in 2015 when FDA regulators traced a listeria outbreak that sickened at least ten people, three of whom died, back to the company, as we noted in our 2015 cover story, "A Sticky Mess."
Luckily, things have turned out okay for the little creamery in Brenham. It's remarkable, really. Despite the fact that both companies had a listeria outbreak, Blue Bell is now on its way to recovery and reclaiming market share, while Aspen Hills is not.