The Department Of Justice Will Investigate Blue Bell After Its Listeria Outbreak, Which May Be Even Worse Than We Thought

The Blue Bell contamination saga sadly isn't over. In fact, it spans a period far longer than previously thought— information unearthed from the CDC traces the recent listeria outbreak all the way back to 2010. Bacteria DNA from previous outbreaks appear to match the listeria that was discovered in April, which ultimately culminated in a four-month recall and prompted the temporary shuttering of Blue Bell plants across the country. In light of the CDC's findings, the Justice Department is now investigating Blue Bell for the way it responded to the contaminations.

Three people reportedly died from listeriosis associated with the frozen treat. The bacterial infection is relatively rare, though certain at-risk groups, like pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, may find themselves at further risk of developing fatal symptoms. Listeria symptoms range from fever, nausea, and diarrhea to more severe afflictions such as convulsions, loss of balance, and various nervous system issues. Ten people in four states were reportedly made sick from listeria linked to Blue Bell products, all of whom were hospitalized at one point. The DOJ has been relatively quiet about its just launched investigation, and Blue Bell has yet to make a public comment regarding their involvement. Instead, they've been looking to bring their product back.

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Blue Bell began its ambitious five-phase rollout to restock its products in August, initially delivering ice cream to Austin, Brenham, and Houston, Texas, as well as in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. The company announced their fifth stage on Dec. 28. A bonus phase is scheduled to commence on Jan. 11, with major metropolitan areas including Little Rock, Arkansas; El Paso, Texas; and Memphis, Tennessee. The fifth phase is set to start one week later, on Jan. 17, and will include large swaths of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia as well as areas in Kentucky, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. The phase will end on Jan. 25 with the reintroduction of Blue Bell to the entire state of Florida as well as more sections of Georgia and South Carolina.

Blue Bell Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ricky Dickson issued a statement about the company's plans ahead, assuring customers that they'll see such beloved ice cream flavors as buttered pecan and the great divide in stores quite soon. The company plans to reopen all of their plants and is even eyeing an expansion. Dickson said:

Upon the completion of phase five, we will turn our attention to building inventory for the spring as well as adding additional products and flavors to our line-up. Even though we do not have a specific date, we plan to expand our sales territory whenever we are properly positioned to do so.

Similar mass contaminations such as Chipotle's E. coli outbreak may very well come under investigation as well given its scale. As previously mentioned, though Blue Bell has certainly seen listeria issues before, the 2015 recall marked the first such event in the company's 108-year history. It's unclear what a DOJ investigation holds and how it will affect the future of Blue Bell.