With its ice cream still absent from store shelves, Blue Bell Creameries says it notified FDA and state health officials in Alabama it will begin test production at its Sylacauga, AL facility within the next several weeks. The company adds it has no firm date for when the test production will start and has no concrete timeline for when consumers might once again be able to purchase Blue Bell ice cream in stores.
“We have been working diligently to prepare our facilities to resume test production, and our focus throughout this process has been to ensure the public that when our products return to market, they are safe,” says Greg Bridges, vice president of operations for Blue Bell. “We are very excited about taking these important first steps as part of the process of getting high-quality Blue Bell products back to consumers.”
When production does resume at the Sylacauga plant, Blue Bell says it will be on a limited basis as it seeks to confirm that new procedures, facility enhancements and employee training have been effective. The ice cream will be closely monitored and tested. Upon completion of this trial period, Blue Bell will begin building inventory to return to the market.
Texas-based Blue Bell issued a nationwide recall and stopped production at all its plants earlier this year after some of its ice cream products were linked to an outbreak of Listeriosis. Since the recall was initiated, Blue Bell has collected approximately 8 million gallons of ice cream and ice cream products. The voluntary recall included all Blue Bell ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen shakes. Blue Bell distributed the products to approximately 23 states in the US, including many in the South and Midwest.
Authorities at CDC say 10 people with Listeriosis related to this outbreak have been confirmed in four states. Five individuals were patients treated at a single hospital in Kansas who were served ice cream from Blue Bell’s single-serving products and milkshakes made from these products. Three deaths also have been reported. Listeriosis did not cause the deaths, though it may have been a contributing factor, according to Kansas health officials.
Last month, Blue Bell identified the possible source of Listeria at its Oklahoma plant as unprotected equipment stored in a room classified as non-sanitary. However, it was unable to pinpoint a single source of contamination at either its Alabama or Texas facility.
The investigation at the Oklahoma facility found food contact equipment used in processing and packaging was stored in the basement—a hot and humid area—uncovered and unprotected from condensate that could drip onto surfaces.