Texas-based ice cream company Blue Bell Creamery has reached an agreement with the state health department for penalties related to last year’s listeria outbreak that sickened 10 people and was tied to three deaths. Under the agreement health officials have fined Blue Bell $850,000, though the company may only be required to pay a fraction of that amount according to The Dallas Morning News.
Blue Bell is committed to paying $175,000 within the next 30 days and can avoid doling out the additional $675,000 if the company continues to to test and monitor for listeria at its production facility. The ice cream maker must report positive tests for the bacteria found in any finished product, ingredient, or surface within 24 hours of testing for at least 18 months.
Former Blue Bell employees alleged that the massive outbreak was preventable, claiming the Texas ice cream plant was cutting corners on sanitation in order to keep up with high demand for its products. Last year, following the recall a Houston-area customer filed a lawsuit against the company saying he "damn near died" from a listeria infection he contracted in 2013 after consuming Blue Bell products. The U.S. Justice Department, which has vowed to crack down on companies responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks, opened up an investigation into Blue Bell in December to determine whether company officials were aware of the dangers at the plants.
Blue Bell’s flagship facility in Brenham, Texas, wasn’t the only location to test positive for listeria. According to a report issued to the Food & Drug Administration, the company believes the hazardous strain of bacteria spread to equipment at its plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, through a floor drain in a storage room. Following the recall, Blue Bell laid off 1,450 workers — nearly half its force — to save money. Production resumed last July.
• State Health Department Fines Blue Bell $850,000 Following Listeria Outbreak [Dallas Morning News]
• All Blue Bell Coverage [E]