Blue Bell Ice Cream Returns to Store Shelves in Select Cities

1 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Blue Bell Ice Cream Back on Shelves in Two States.

Blue Bell Creameries resumed selling its products at select locations on Monday, four months after it halted sales because of listeria contamination. Fans of Blue Bell ice cream were happy to show off the containers as they were the first in the area to purchase Blue Bell products Monday, in Brenham, Texas.America’s third-largest ice cream brand, which has cultivated a devoted following of ice cream lovers over the past century, has begun delivering ice cream to select markets after a deadly listeria outbreak caused a summer-long factory shutdown and a recall of 8 million gallons of ice cream. The deadly bacteria contamination, which was linked to three deaths and several other illnesses, could have meant the end for the 108-year-old ice cream maker, which had previously been cited for listeria problems.

Health officials in Oklahoma have cleared the plant in that state – one of four Blue Bell plants shuttered by a Listeria outbreak – to resume production, said Blue Bell spokesman Joe Robertson. The shot in the arm from Sid Bass, a legendary investor known for making big bets on companies like Walt Disney, helped Blue Bell clean up its production facilities and begin churning out ice cream just in time for the end of summer. That means the company’s plants in its hometown of Brenham will be the last to come back online, following a systemwide shut down and total product recall launched in April. With production facilities at a standstill, the company announced in May that about 1,400 employees would be furloughed, and about 750 full-time and 700 part-time employees – or 37 percent of the total Blue Bell workforce of 3,900 – would be laid off. Robertson added, however, that Kansas remains a “suspended” market. “We’re not saying we wouldn’t ever come back to Kansas, but there are no plans as of now,” Robertson said. “We still hope to return (to Kansas) someday.

At the Broken Arrow, which is smaller than the Brenham operation, 32 people were laid off and 76 were furloughed. “We’ve brought back 58 of the furloughed workers to date,” Robertson said. We still own properties in Kansas.” Citing “limited distribution and product” availability, Robertson said the company currently plans to return to 15 of the 23 states that it had been in before the outbreak, though he added that could change. That plant underwent “numerous cleaning, upgrade and facility construction projects … including floor repairs, extensive equipment disassembly and sanitizing, and a re-design of the processing and production areas to increase production and cleaning efficiency and eliminate potential contamination pathways,” the company said. The company voluntarily recalled its products in April after they were linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths that were linked to contaminated products at a Wichita hospital.

Belfry added that there were five listeria illnesses documented in Sedgwick County due to the outbreak. “Listeria was listed as a contributing factor on the individuals’ death certificates,” Belfry said. “Officially, listeria was associated with, but not a direct cause of those three deaths.” Blue Bell spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf said “approximately” 40 jobs, a combination of full and part time, were lost at the company’s Kansas City distribution center when it ceased operations following the outbreak. Production plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama underwent an extensive cleaning and decontamination, under the regulatory oversight of health officials.

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