U.S. ice cream maker Blue Bell starts cleanup after Listeria outbreak

April 30, 2015 6:56 am 

HOUSTON, April 29 — One of the largest frozen dessert manufacturers in the United States, Blue Bell Creameries, began a thorough cleanup Tuesday following a Listeria-linked crisis that prompted the company to recall all its products nationwide.

The Texas-based ice cream maker said in its latest statement that it has shut down all its four production facilities in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas for an intensive cleaning.

Last week the company pulled all its products off store shelves — including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks distributed in 23 U.S. states and overseas including China.

The massive recall was prompted after Listeria was found in a variety of its frozen treats, which was linked to 10 Listeria illnesses, including three deaths.

Listeria affects primarily pregnant women, newborns, adults with weakened immune systems, and the elderly. Its symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and fever.

Blue Bell so far has not pinned down the exact source of the contamination. It is still "continuing to test individual pieces of equipment, the floor and other surfaces throughout its plants as it looks for the source or sources of the bacteria," according to the statement.

Meanwhile, the company has also embarked on a new training program for employees in food safety and handling. Around 750 employees were briefed Monday on how to control environmental conditions at the plant to prevent bacteria, including Listeria.

Blue Bell will be producing test ice cream batches this week, but they will not be shipped for retail use, the company said.

There is no word on when Blue Bell will resume production, but Greg Bridges, vice president of operations for Blue Bell, said, "Our manufacturing facilities … are large and complex, so we anticipate this process will take some time. We appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers and retailers as we work to get this right."

As the nation's third-largest maker of ice cream, Blue Bell has captured some 6.4 percent of that market. As of last year, it was on its way to reach 1 billion U.S. dollars in annual sales. (PNA/Xinhua)

LAM/SSC

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