Blue Bell Ice Cream will lay off 1,450 workers following an outbreak of listeria infections caused by contaminated food products.
The company is also ending operations at distribution centers in 10 states. Management of the Texas-based corporation made the announcement of the layoffs on May 15.
Layoffs affect 37 percent of the food manufacturer's workforce or 3,900 employees. Around 750 full-time workers, as well as 700 part-time employees at the company, will lose their jobs.
Texas health officials announced on May 14 they had reached an agreement with Blue Bell for the manufacturer to eventually return to selling ice cream in the Lone Star state. The manufacturer would be required to give health officials two weeks notice before the product is once again introduced to grocery store shelves, so samples may be tested for listeria.
"There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time," Blue Bell officials report.
Between January 2014 and January 2015, three people died from listeriosis in a hospital in Kansas where Blue Bell ice cream is served. At least 10 people became ill from eating the contaminated desserts. Listeria bacteria were also found in a manufacturing plant in Brenham, Texas, and an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported the company covered up repeated findings of the bacteria at a plant in Oklahoma.
Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, weakness, vomiting, confusion and stiff neck. The bacteria responsible for the disease can be found in raw milk and other dairy products. Unlike many bacteria, the variety responsible for listeria can survive — and even thrive — in temperatures seen in refrigerators. The microorganisms can only be killed by thorough cooking or pasteurization.
As with many diseases, listeriosis is most dangerous to pregnant women, children and the elderly. Federal health officials recommend storing meats and dairy products separately from fruits, vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods.
In addition to the 1,450 people who have permanently lost their jobs, another 1,400 are being put on furlough, and the remaining employees are seeing their pay rates reduced. These mark the first layoffs the company has experienced in 100 years.
"The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell's CEO and President," said Paul Kruse, chief executive officer of Blue Bell.