June 2, 2015 — On the heels of an agreement with Alabama health officials, the Austin-American Statesman reports that Blue Bell had evidence of hygiene issues at the plant as far back as 2011.
Inspectors with the Alabama Department of Public Health found problems on at least six visits to a Blue Bell facility in Sylacauga.
Those problems were very similar to ones seen at Blue Bell facilities in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Brenham, Texas, where the company is headquartered.
Those inspection reports described a number of hygiene issues, including:
“…plant construction issues that contributed to leaky condensate that could contaminate food, failure to conduct necessary testing, concerns over suitable outer garments worn by employees and hygiene issues, such as a worker seen not washing his hands while handling product.”
Yesterday, Blue Bell announced an agreement with health officials in Alabama to fix problems and implement procedures to reduce the risk of future outbreaks before they can resume operations.
The information pushes back the timeline on when Blue Bell knew or should have known it had a food safety problem. According to the FDA, the company also had 17 positive Listeria tests at a facility in Oklahoma dating back to March 2013.
The positive Listeria tests were not reported to the FDA until recently. Blue Bell did not issue any recalls or shut down their facilities until earlier this year, after health officials in Kansas reported that three hospitalized patients were infected with Listeria and died after eating the ice cream. In total, 10 cases have been confirmed in four states.
Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found in soil and water. Once it contaminates a facility, it can be very difficult to eradicate — partly because it grows under refrigeration temperatures. Infections are rare but often invasive, especially in high-risk individuals like young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.
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