Ice cream maker Blue Bell is pulling all of its ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and other frozen snack products off store shelves, expanding an earlier recall linked a listeria outbreak reported by the Centers for Disease Control in Texas and Oklahoma. The outbreak has been linked to several illnesses and at least five deaths.
“We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, said in a company statement issued Monday. “We are heartbroken about this situation and apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.”
The recalled products were sold at retail outlets in 23 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as in international locations including the Philippines.
The recall expands on several recalls issued earlier this year by the Brenham, Texas-based company. Blue Bell began pulling certain products off shelves in mid-March after CDC officials linked certain products manufactured in one of Blue Bell's Texas plants to listeria in Kansas hospital patients between January 2014 and January 2015. On March 23, the company issued a second recall after listeriosis strains were found at another company plant in Broken Arrow, Okla. The latest recall was issued as a result of an expanded testing system within the company found listeriosis in two lots of Blue Bell's cookie dough ice cream, manufactured on March 17, 2015, and March 27, 2015. "This means Blue Bell has now had several positive tests for Listeria in different places and plants," the company said in a statement.
Listeriosis is a food-borne bacteria commonly found in fruits, vegetables, and certain prepackaged foods; it has been linked to several recent food product recalls. On April 8, Sabra recalled 30,000 cases of its original hummus recipe after a routine supermarket inspection found listeriosis in certain lots. In December, 28 illnesses and four deaths in 10 states were linked to listeria contamination in prepackaged caramel apples. According to experts, the bacteria spreads easily through food and water, making it a common culprit in food-borne illnesses.
In response to its listeria problems, Blue Bell says it has expanded its safety procedures, including more cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and a daily sampling of specimens in a lab. The company is also instituting a "test and hold” system at its facilities for the time being – products will be tested and held for release to the market until after the tests show they are safe. "Blue Bell expects to resume distribution soon on a limited basis once it is confident in the safety of its product," the company says.
In the meantime, customers who have purchased Blue Bell products should throw them out or return them to the store for a full refund. Consumers with additional questions can call 1-866-608-3940 Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. CST or go to bluebell.com.