Galveston Woman Sues Blue Bell, Claims She Got Listeria From Ice Cream

Galveston Woman Sues Blue Bell, Claims She Got Listeria From Ice Cream
Ruthie Johnson Miller
Photo by Max Burkhalter
Blue Bell officials can't seem to catch a break. Every time it starts to look like they can just get past the ice cream maker's listeria scandal, more safety concerns become public.

Once again the company has been slapped with a lawsuit filed by a Galveston woman who says she got sick after eating contaminated ice cream, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Galveston County District Court.

On April 18, 2015, Ursula Burton bought ice cream at a Valero convenience store. Burton and her daughter ate the ice cream and went to an art walk, but from there both of them "became violently ill and started to vomit," according to lawsuit, which was filed on Monday.

Burton contends in the lawsuit that she was subsequently diagnosed with listeriosis and is now lactose intolerant while her daughter now has a dairy sensitivity because they ingested listeria-tainted Blue Bell ice cream.

She's not the first to make this claim.

The fact that Blue Bell ice cream has had a listeria problem is old news by now. South Carolina state health officials discovered Blue Bell products had been contaminated in February 2015, causing the company to issue its first recall in more than a century of operation. Then, the Brenham-based creamery was forced to yank all of its products off the shelves as it came out that Blue Bell's factories had been testing positive for listeria for the past five years, according to Food and Drug Administration records, but the company had never actually tested the ice cream for listeria, as we reported in our 2015 cover story, "A Sticky Mess."

Once this came out, the company went into a tailspin, furloughing half of its workforce and laying off the other half while officials struggled to figure out how to rid the plants of 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 ice cream factories. In some cases people have had to burn down facilities and rebuild to be able to actually get the listeria out.)

However, the public has stayed doggedly loyal to the company, and the company — with a cash injection from Fort Worth oilman Sid Bass — has managed to survive.

Blue Bell triumphantly returned to grocery store freezers last year. Even when the FDA warned Blue Bell and Aspen Hills, the cookie dough supplier, that there was another listeria problem and Blue Bell had to issue two more recalls last fall, it didn't throw off the company's adoring public. Fans have proved infinitely forgiving, as we've noted before.

This is partly because there haven't been a ton of horror stories about what actually contracting listeria feels like.

After all, there haven't been a ton of lawsuits filed against Blue Bell for one simple reason — it's very likely that many of the people who actually got listeria from the ice cream have no idea it happened to them. Even the ten people known to have contracted the disease from Blue Bell products — three of whom died — according to the Centers for Disease Control, may not even know they had listeria themselves because the CDC doesn't release the names of those who test positive for diseases like this or even inform the victims or their families what the investigators find out from the tests.

There was the case of David Shockley, a former Houston resident who sued Blue Bell after he came down with meningitis from eating Blue Bell ice cream. Shockley is one of the few who has actually sued the company for his illness, which left him with permanent physical damage, as we've reported, but the case was settled last fall.

But now comes this lawsuit. Burton is accusing Blue Bell of gross negligence and deceptive trade practices. She is seeking $200,000 to $1 million for pain, anguish, medical expenses, damages from physical impairment and lost wages.
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray