Blue Bell Ice Cream Plant Closes Amid Ongoing Listeria Fears

Blue Bell Creameries is temporarily suspending operations at its Oklahoma manufacturing plant pending further inspection by government investigators, who are still investigating an ice cream listeria outbreak that has hospitalized at least five consumers and been linked to at least three deaths. 

Following the March 15 recall of Blue Bell ice cream and milkshake products that were sold to hospitals, the manufacturer announced late last week that it has agreed to suspend operations of its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma manufacturing plant to allow the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a complete examination to determine the root cause of the contamination.

To date, the CDC investigation is aware of five consumers who contracted listeria food poisoning; four of whom got sick after the ice cream was fed to them in a hospital.

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Of the five recorded hospitalizations linked to the ice cream, three individuals died shortly after becoming infected. According to the FDA’s reports, it is unclear whether the infections were the main cause of the deaths, but they were believed to be a contributing factor.

The CDC and FDA are recommending that consumers not eat or drink any Blue Bell Creameries ice cream or milkshake products manufactured at the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant. Customers may identify these specific products by checking for the letters “O”, “P”, “Q”, “R”, “S”, and “T” following the “code date” printed on the product package.

The initial Blue Bell Creameries ice cream and milkshake products recall included certain products with specific date ranges. Since the FDA has recognized the severity of the specific strains of listeria within the products, it is asking customers to avoid all products processed at this plant.

The FDA and CDC’s investigation thus far has shown that four of the five individuals from the same Kansas hospital who contracted the listeria infection had consumed milkshakes made with a single-serving Blue Bell brand ice cream product called “Scoops” while they were already in the hospital for unrelated problems before developing listerosis. Information about the fifth sickened individual was not included in the report.

CDC investigators were able to isolate four separate strains of listeria monocytogens from a single-serving Blue Bell 3-ounce chocolate ice cream cup collected from the Kansas hospital and make an indistinguishable match from the listeria isolates collected from the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma manufacturing plant through pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. After running the isolates collected from the plant in the PulseNet database, the CDC recognized six patients with listerosis between 2010 and 2014 who had the exact same PFGE patterns indistinguishable from those collected from the chocolate Blue Bell ice cream. An additional investigation is still ongoing to determine whether these illnesses are related to the Blue Bell products.

Listerosis is a foodborne illness that can cause serious health consequences and can be fatal, especially forchildren, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. The infection poses a significant threat to pregnant women, who may be at an increased risk for miscarriages or still-births.

Symptoms of listeria infection typically include nausea, muscle ache, diarrhea, fever, and fatigue. Some cases of listeria may become more life threatening when the infection moves through the bloodstream into the nervous system resulting in sometimes fatal infections.

Blue Bell Creameries announced on the company’s website that their other plants will continue production and will supply the ice cream products to retail stores and institutional customers while the FDA conducts its investigation.


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