The Latest Blue Bell Recall Update Is Even Worse News For The Shell-Shocked Company
On Friday last week, ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell announced a wave of massive layoffs in response to a dire situation which began in April, after the company voluntarily recalled all of its products from store shelves due to a listeria scare. The initial recall in March, which pulled only some of the company's products from distributor shelves, was the first recall the company had issued in over 100 years. With the projected financial burden of completely overhauling the company's many facilities and plants, as well as the increasing costs associated with widespread health and safety measures, the company announced over the weekend that it would cutting nearly 40 percent of its 3,900 staff.
"We are working with those employees who have been laid off in whatever manner we can assist them," said Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse in a statement on Friday, calling the decision an "agonizing" one. "This is a terribly sad day at the company, and for me personally."
Officials stated that the company would be putting an additional 1,400 employees on partially paid furlough. Remaining staff have also had their salaries cut.
"The process of cleaning and improving Blue Bell’s four production plants is going to take longer than the company initially anticipated, especially at the main plant in Brenham where major repairs and equipment replacements are expected," wrote the company in a press release. "There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again."
The layoffs have sparked a host of varying reaction among affected employees.
"My husband was one of the people let go ... [with] no explanation as to why he (or anyone else) was picked to be 'permanently laid off'," said Hanna Averitt of Brenham, Texas, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "He was there a total of 13 years." Averitt said the decision was "poorly handled."
Others were relieved to at least be partially employed — for the time being.
"Thank you Blue Bell for doing everything you can to take care of the employees," wrote Frances Herndon, whose husband was furloughed, in a letter to the paper.
In April, the CDC officially announced that the Blue Bell listeria outbreak, which originated at its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant a month earlier, to three fatal cases in Kansas and several reported illnesses across various U.S. states.
According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen which can cause convulsions, muscle aches, confusion, and high fever; in severe cases, it can cause septicemia and meningitis. Pregnant women infected with listeriosis may suffer miscarriages or neonatal death. Officials estimate that the disease affects around 1,600 people in the United States per year.
It's been a devastating few months for the decades-old company, which first opened its doors in 1907. Kruse explained that the company had attempted to hold off on issuing layoffs for as long as possible before making its somber announcement on Friday.
"At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible," said Kruse in a statement. "We have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future, but it still hurts — a lot."