Blue Bell Creameries is seeking to have federal regulators drop the stringent precautions that were placed on the company after it had suffered a listeria outbreak last year.
The Texas-based ice cream maker took a crippling blow in 2015 after indications of a potential listeria contamination were discovered on its products. The company had to get rid of much of its frozen goods, including those that tested free from the bacteria, as part of food safety measures.
The unnecessary destruction of hundreds of thousands of its ice cream products costed Blue Bell millions of dollars in losses.
This left the company in a difficult position, especially since it had already been forced to issue a comprehensive recall, shut down operations in its plants, cut its sales in half and lay off many of its employees.
Blue Bell's Plan For Recovery
Documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Blue Bell is looking to have the precautions lifted and replaced by a testing approach instead. The procedure would allow the company to destroy its products only if contamination has been confirmed.
The ice cream maker has also spent the past few months working with a third-party laboratory to develop a new testing system that would meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) requirements.
Blue Bell hopes that the procedure would allow it avoid a similar outbreak in the future. It would also help the company regain its market share and achieve financial stability again.
Joseph Levitt, legal counsel for Blue Bell,explained that it was reasonable for the company to address the issue with an extra cautious approach, given the extent at which the comprehensive recall had to be carried out in 2015.
However, Blue Bell is now ready to transition back to the industry norm after establishing that it has an effective prevention program for listeria outbreaks in all of its facilities.
Experts believe the ice cream maker's proposal will help bring its testing procedures up to par with those of fellow food manufacturers.
Blue Bell's current protocol came about after issuing a recall for its ice cream and stopping production due to listeria contamination reports last spring.
The company was forced to issue another recall last fall after detecting listeria traces in unopened cookie dough packages from one its suppliers. Blue Bell uses cookie dough for some of the favors of its products.
Industry standards dictate that food manufacturers should screen their product samples for possible listeria contaminations. They should then have the samples tested using laboratory cultures to confirm the presence or absence of the bacteria. Sometimes, initial tests could yield a positive bacterial detection only to be proven false after follow up testing.
Food makers typically destroy their products only after contamination has been confirmed. However, Blue Bell has been destroying its products even without waiting for confirmation, with supervision from the FDA.