Texas-based ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries says that the listeria sample found in one of its products could likely have originated from a non-sanitary room in its facility in Oklahoma.
In a report released on Wednesday, Blue Bell submitted its plans on how to address the issues to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency conducted an inspection of the ice cream company's facilities after its frozen products were linked to listeria cases in four different states and the death of three people in Kansas.
While the company has provided the likely source of the listeria sample in its Oklahoma plant in its report, it has yet to name the origin of the contamination found at its Texas plant.
The FDA released the documents in part to confirm that the inspection of surface areas at Blue Bell's plant in Alabama revealed that the facility had the worst form of listeria found.
There are no reports of listeria illnesses connected to products from Blue Bell's Alabama plant.
According to Blue Bell, it has stopped operating its Brenham plant in Texas and its facilities in Alabama and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma after the national product recall was issued. The listeria contamination was discovered in products manufactured at the company's plants in Oklahoma and Texas.
In response to the inspections done by the FDA, the company stated that the listeria samples found in its ice cream products from the Oklahoma plant could likely have originated from sealed buckets of ingredients and equipment that were kept in a non-sanitary room.
Blue Bell's own investigation on the incident found that "atomized particles" that could have acted as carriers for listeria might have been released through a drain located in the room.
"If the equipment and the outside of these buckets were not cleaned successfully before being put back into the production area, they could have spread listeria into product through employee and equipment contact," Blue Bell wrote in its report.
Blue Bell added that it no longer keeps its equipment stored in the aforementioned room.
Regarding its manufacturing facility in Texas, the company said its investigation focused on identifying specific production lines and equipment that could have been the source of the contamination. However, when it became clear that it would not be possible, the company adopted a "broad-focused remediation plan" instead.
Blue Bell pointed out that it has begun cleaning and sanitizing different parts of its production lines. It has also started to break down its equipment to ensure the comprehensive cleaning and sanitation of its Texas and Oklahoma plants.
The company is also reviewing the results of a test conducted by a private laboratory that claims it has found samples of listeria in an ice cream product from Blue Bell's plant in Alabama.
Blue Bell stated that it will initiate better testing guidelines for surface areas and equipment in each of its plants and facilities as well as for the company's products. It will also implement a new reconfiguration of its equipment and production lines.
The company will add splash guards and troughs in its facilities to help prevent condensation from dripping into its products. This was one of the issues pointed out in the FDA's inspection.
A new policy on clothing will be implemented in Blue Bell's facilities. This will require all personnel to wear coverings at all times during the production.
There has been no specific date when ice cream products from Blue Bell will be brought back to the market.
Since the announcement of the product recall, Blue Bell has been forced to lay off around one-third of its labor force.
Photo: Russ | Flickr