Blue Bell Knew About Listeria Contamination 2 Years Ago, Feds Say

2 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Correction appended, May 8, 2015

Blue Bell Creameries was aware of the listeria contamination in its facilities since 2013, long before an outbreak that left three people dead, according to new inspection documents released by the Food and Drug Administration.

The documents from the Broken Arrow, Okla. location outlines five instances of listeria found in 2013, including on the floor in front of the freezer and on the catwalk behind the flavor tank.

“You failed to demonstrate your cleaning and sanitizing program is effective in controlling recurring microbiological contaminations,” the FDA report reads, while also chronicling deficiencies in storage, hand-washing and other critical sanitation procedures.

In 2013 and 2014 inspections found issues of this nature, but the problems with contamination continued. After the five instances of listeria contamination found in 2013, 10 were found in 2014, and two so far in 2015.

Blue Bell has recalled all of its products after three people died from listeriosis earlier this year and seven more were hospitalized.

“We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” Blue Bell’s chief executive Paul Kruse said of the recall.

Blue Bell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The FDA released a statement Friday clarifying that the agency was not aware of Blue Bell’s listeria findings until performing its 2015 inspection.

“When Listeria is found in the manufacturing environment, rather than on the food itself, it is not uncommon for a company to immediately take corrective action, rather than test further to see if the strain of Listeria poses a threat (is pathogenic),” the FDA said in a statement. “Although Blue Bell’s testing did identify Listeria, the company did not further identify the strain to determine if it was pathogenic. Therefore, it is not known whether the strain found in 2013 was Listeria monocytogenes or another non-pathogenic type of Listeria. The FDA continues to work with the company to ensure that its processes and practices comply with food safety laws and regulations.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the timing of the FDA’s inspection of Blue Bell. The FDA inspected Blue Bell in 2015, while the 2013 and 2014 inspections were done by another party.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Tessa Berenson at