Blue Bell: Suspected Listeria found in facility, not in product

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BRENHAM - As Blue Bell continues its reintroduction to the marketplace, the Brenham-based ice cream maker says its new procedures have found "suspected Listeria species may be present in our facility," though none of it in the company's product.

"Because Listeria is commonly found in the natural environment, no manufacturer can ever assume it can be entirely eradicated," the company said in a statement Thursday. "We have worked closely with our expert team of microbiologists to develop an enhanced, robust testing system specifically designed for each facility to identify any possible presence of Listeria in the production environment, including extensive environmental testing and testing every single batch of ice cream we make before it is sold to customers."

Blue Bell, which emphasized Thursday night that its new procedures are doing the job in locating possible issues within its plants, does not identify which facility the company found the suspected Listeria in. Beyond the main facility in Brenham, Blue Bell operates plants in Oklahoma and Alabama. The procedures are the same across those facilities, according to the company.

In April, Blue Bell voluntarily recalled all of its products after Listeria linked to ice cream sickened people in multiple states, including Texas. Three people in Kansas died.

During the recall, Blue Bell says it revamped its procedures and cleaned its facilities. Layoffs and furloughs of its workforce took place.

Late in 2015, the company began reintroducing its product over a multi-phase plan, with furloughed employees brought back over the course of the process. The final phase is set to happen January 18.

Last month, CBS News reported a Department of Justice investigation is underway examining the company's handling of the discovery of Listeria and when it knew of its presence in facilities and products.

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The following is a press release from Blue Bell Thursday:

Brenham, TX, January 7, 2016 – As we complete our final phase of distribution, we wanted to update our loyal customers on what has been going on in our production facilities. We continue to strictly adhere to our enhanced operations, policies, employee training and cleaning procedures to help give regulatory agencies and the public assurance that all aspects of our facilities and operations are resulting in a safe product.

We continually reinforce to our employees that eliminating all potential sources of contamination is our number one priority so that we can stay committed to producing safe and high quality products for customers to enjoy.

Because Listeria is commonly found in the natural environment, no manufacturer can ever assume it can be entirely eradicated. We have worked closely with our expert team of microbiologists to develop an enhanced, robust testing system specifically designed for each facility to identify any possible presence of Listeria in the production environment, including extensive environmental testing and testing every single batch of ice cream we make before it is sold to customers.

We are pleased that our enhanced environmental and product testing procedures are working. We have identified locations where suspected Listeria species may be present in our facility, and we continue to extensively clean and sanitize those areas and make additional enhancements to the facility and our procedures based on the environmental test results. To confirm that our robust environmental program is effective, and that our “seek and destroy” goals are being achieved, we expect to periodically find microbiological indications in our facilities. Since our plants reopened, we have tested and will continue to test every batch of ice cream produced, and no products produced have tested positive for Listeria.

We will continue to work closely with our regulatory agencies, as we have throughout this process, and our number one priority will continue to be making sure our products are safe for our customers to enjoy.

Read the original version of this article at www.kwtx.com.