For 108 years, the Blue Bell Ice Cream company sold its prized desserts in supermarkets, schools, and hospitals nationwide. In recent days, however, that streak has been cut short by serious health concerns. On Friday, Blue Bell announced a massive recall of ice cream cups after health officials discovered listeria in one of the servings originating from the company's Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant. The scariest part? The cups that have been recalled aren't the ones you can purchase at the grocery store — they're the ones handed out to schoolkids and patients across the country.
"We are working diligently with the FDA to investigate this issue as its inspectors conduct their examination of our production facilities," said Blue Bell CEO and president Paul Kruse in a statement on March 27, after earlier reports of previous contaminations in Kansas and Texas began prompting serious questions. "We are deeply saddened and concerned for all who have been affected."
The latest Listeria monocytogenes contamination was first discovered at the Oklahoma plant, although FDA officials confirmed that previous contaminations had been discovered in hospital samples. So far, there have been no reported illnesses in correlation with the new recall. On Saturday, Blue Bell announced that it would be temporarily shutting down the Oklahoma plant as a precautionary measure as officials search for a source.
"Our internal investigation into the specific cause of the contamination is ongoing, and we have ceased production on the lines where the recalled [ice cream cups were] made," said Kruse. "We are working tirelessly to make sure that we provide a safe product."
The Blue Bell listeria scare isn't the first one to crop up in recent days: on March 23, organic food giant Amy's Kitchen issued a recall of dozens of products after a sample of the bacteria was discovered by one of the company's organic spinach suppliers. In Woodford, Virginia, on Friday, small-scale supplier Henry’s Farm Inc. also issued a recall of its soybean sprout packages after a possible listeria contamination was found during a routine sampling by the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Listeria monocytogenes is an intracellular pathogen that occurs most frequently in meat, poultry, and seafood products. According to the CDC, listeriosis infections affect nearly 1,600 individuals across the country each year, with 17 percent of those cases reported fatal. Serious infections may cause septicemia and meningitis, and in pregnant women can cause miscarriages and neonatal death. The CDC reports that symptoms can include "headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions," as well as high fever muscle aches.
CNN reported that the contamination discovered at the Kansas hospital in April 2014 likely stemmed from the same outbreak at the Oklahoma plant. CDC officials confirmed Saturday that the two samples "appeared to match each other genetically," but that the full extent of the outbreak was not yet known.
So far, the recalled products include the company's 3-ounce serving size cups sent to facilities and labeled with the letters O, P, Q, R, S or T following the "code date."
"These cups are sold to institutions, which may include schools, nursing homes, and hospitals; according to Blue Bell Creameries, they are not sold through retail outlets, such as convenience stores or supermarkets," explained the CDC on its website Friday. Teachers, administrators, and caregivers are encouraged to keep a watchful eye out for any potentially contaminated products. "When in doubt, throw it out," they cautioned.