May 8, 2015 — Did executives at Blue Bell Creameries know about Listeria contamination and fail to take appropriate steps to correct the problem?
If so, they could face criminal charges, jail time, government fines, and lawsuits accusing the company of negligence.
Government documents released yesterday show that a single Blue Bell Creameries plant in Oklahoma tested positive for Listeria at least 13 times since 2013.
As recently as last month, inspectors also documented unsanitary conditions as recently as last month at all three Blue Bell plants.
Historically, criminal charges have been filed in other food poisoning outbreaks involving peanut butter, eggs, and cantaloupe. If employees at Blue Bell were aware of Listeria contamination but failed to recall products to protect their brand, they could face criminal charges as well.
Listeria monocytogenes is an extremely serious problem to find in a food processing facility, and eradicating it is very difficult. After what the FDA called “inadequate cleaning,” Blue Bell continued shipping ice cream to hospitals and grocery stores around the nation.
In fact, the first illnesses were reported in hospitalized patients in Kansas. Three deaths and at least 10 illnesses were reported in Kansas, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Health officials said the outbreak has been ongoing since 2010.
Criminal charges in recent food poisoning outbreaks:
- Cantaloupe: In January 2014, two Colorado farmers whose Listeria-tainted cantaloupe killed 33 people in 28 states in 2011 were sentenced to five years probation, six months home detention, restitution of $150,000 each, and 100 hours of community service.
- Peanuts: Executives at Peanut Corporation of America were convicted of 70 felony counts after Salmonella-tainted peanuts sickened 700 people and killed nine.
- Eggs: The owners of Quality Egg were sentenced to three months in jail, one year’s probation, and fines totaling $7 million after recalling 500 million eggs due to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 2,000 people.
Listeria infections are most serious for people with vulnerable immune systems, children, and the elderly. Pregnant women can also have miscarriages or stillbirths.
Infections can rapidly spread beyond the gastrointestinal system and cause bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the covering around the brain and spinal cord. About one in six infections are deadly.
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