Blue Bell Creameries, the beleaguered ice cream maker, is taking initial steps to resume operations after a deadly outbreak of foodborne illness temporarily crippled its business and forced management to issue pink slips.
On July 8, the company revealed notifying state and federal health officials that it planned to begin testing ice cream production at a facility in Sylacauga, Alabama in the next several weeks.
Blue Bell, which previously announced a 37 percent reduction in its 3,900-member workforce, hasn’t given a firm date on when it will resume sales of ice cream.
Even when the company recommences production at the Alabama plant, it will be in a limited capacity while Blue Bell examines the effectiveness of new procedures, facility improvements and employee training, according to a news release. The company said it will closely monitor and test the ice cream, and after the trial period ends, Blue Bell will start building inventory to return to the market.
“We have been working diligently to prepare our facilities to resume test production," Greg Bridges, Blue Bell’s vice president for operations, said in a statement, “and our focus throughout this process has been to ensure the public that when our products return to market, they are safe."
A listeriosis outbreak traced to Blue Bell has been tied to 10 people who have been hospitalized, including three deaths in Kansas, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Documents reveal Blue Bell was aware as far back as 2013 that the bacteria Listeria had been detected in one of its plants.
In April, Texas-based Blue Bell voluntarily recalled all its products, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks, because it was possible the food was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women and newborns, adults who are at least 65 years old and people who suffer from weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to listeriosis, a life-threatening infection, according to the CDC.