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Listeria Bacteria Found Two Years Ago at Blue Bell Plant, Report Says

A report from the FDA shows the Brenham-based ice cream maker had issues two years prior to the recall spurred by three deaths in Kansas.

Listeria bacteria was found in Blue Bell ice cream's Oklahoma plant two years ago, according to test results the federal government released yesterday.

The report, which was released after a Freedom of Information Act request from the Houston Chronicle's Mark Collette, also revealedthe company continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the FDA said was inadequate cleaning. The reports also showed failures at a Blue Bell facility in Alabama and at the company's flagship facility in Brenham.

“By all indications, they knew two years ago that they were having some problems surface," says Collette. "And, obviously, since we know that there were some additional illnesses caused since then, obviously they didn’t get to the root cause of it and didn’t upgrade their sanitation programs at that time in a way that would have prevented the later illnesses."

The Food and Drug Administration released results of investigations into Blue Bell's plants in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama. The most extensive violations were found in Oklahoma, where the FDA listed 16 separate positive tests for listeria on equipment and in ice cream from March 2013 through January 2015.

So far, 10 cases have been reported from products from Blue Bell Facilities, three of which resulted in deaths in Kansas.

Blue Bell said yesterday it will be at least several months before its products are back in stores.

"Unfortunately, we do not yet have a firm timeline for when Blue Bell Ice Cream will be back in stores, but we believe at this time that it will be several months at a minimum,” said Blue Bell's CEO and President Paul Kruse in a written statement on the company's website.  “We are evaluating all of our operations in light of this extended timeline, we are working closely with the appropriate federal and state regulatory agencies and our microbiology experts, and we are mapping out the many details of returning to production and distribution as soon as we can do so with confidence."

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