According to FDA records, the agency found evidence of listeria bacteria at a Blue Bell ice cream manufacturing plant in Oklahoma as far back as March 2013. Blue Bell “continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the Food and Drug Administration says was inadequate cleaning.”
The information came to light after The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information request with the FDA. The FDA listed 17 separate tests positive for listeria in the Oklahoma plant over the course of 23 months. Three deaths have been linked to the ice cream. Last month, Blue Bell recalled all of its products.
After the test results were made public, Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse said in a statement it would be “several months at a minimum” before its ice cream is back in stores. The company had said earlier that it expected to be back up and running this month.
Blue Bell said in its statement that its facilities remain closed indefinitely as it cleans and sanitizes them.
Of the report, company spokesman Joe Robertson said when a test was conducted and there was a positive result for listeria, “our standard procedure is to stop, clean and sanitize and then re-swab the area. When we get a negative test (result), we feel like we are good about operating again.”
Robertson said the company takes safety seriously. Of Blue Bell’s procedures, he said, “In hindsight, we can see now that wasn’t always adequate.”
According to the FDA report, extensive violations were found, including dirty equipment, food being unsafely stored and improper hand washing.