Federal regulators say nearly a quarter of ice cream facilities tested positive for contamination with listeria or salmonella bacteria, according to a new report that raises concerns about whether good manufacturing processes are being followed.
In an FDA food safety inspection report issued on April 24, the agency indicates that officials have detected Listeria monocytogenes in 19 out of 89 ice cream production facilities tested in 2016 and 2017.
Following a number of ice cream recalls and safety issues in recent years, the FDA engaged a team to inspect and obtain environmental samples from the facilities, which were located in 32 states. The facilities make up roughly 16% of ice cream manufacturers that the FDA regulates. Pathogens detected in different types of ice cream between 2013 and 2015 resulted in recalls for products manufactured by Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Agave Dream Cappuccino, Blue Bell Ice Cream and others.
Despite most manufacturers following good manufacturing practices, the FDA reports that the inspections found a number of violations, and at least 19 facilities tested positive for listeria, which may pose serious health risks, especially among children and the elderly. The FDA considers listeria infections to be one of the most dangerous food poisoning illnesses, with a 25% fatality rate, often requiring hospitalization.
Evidence suggests that ice cream manufactured at some facilities may also pose a risk of salmonella infections, which can cause mild to severe health consequences depending upon the individual. The bacteria may cause a healthy person to experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain whereas the young or elderly with weakened immune systems may face more severe consequences, including fatal infections.
Among pregnant women, salmonella poisoning may cause still births and miscarriages. Occasionally, salmonella infections may travel through the bloodstream and produce illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis, which can cause severe to potentially life threatening health consequences.
The findings of the inspections led to three recalls conducted in 2017 and 2018. Those included two recalls of Working Cow Homemade Inc. ice creams because of listeria contamination and one recall of Nelson’s Creamery LLC due to undeclared soy lecithin in one of the products.
The FDA suspended Working Cow Homemade Inc.’s food facility registration in 2018. The agency then lifted the suspension earlier this year after the company changed the business model to cease ice cream making and move to only distribute products made by other manufacturers.
The FDA inspections also focused on corrections to food safety among inspected companies to keep harmful bacteria out of products, even if there was no pathogen found.
The agency emphasized that the findings of the report indicate the need for commercial food manufacturers to follow food safety guidelines to ensure detection of pathogens and to prevent health risks to the public.