Following the announcement last month that it would recall all its products due to reports of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination, Blue Bell Creameries says that it has collected approximately 8 million gallons of ice cream and ice cream products from retailers, institutions and other outlets in the U.S. and internationally, and says that phase of the product recall is now complete. However, the company’s leader reveals it will be at least several months before Blue Bell products return to store shelves.
“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,” says Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse. “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. We thank all our customers for their support and patience as we work to create the cleanest, safest environment possible to produce the high-quality, great-tasting ice cream people expect from Blue Bell.”
Blue Bell says the extensive and detailed process of updating, cleaning and sanitizing its four production facilities, as well as training employees and implementing new programs and procedures, will take longer than it initially anticipated. Each facility will have its own timetable, and production may resume in some locations before others. Blue Bell says it is committed to a thorough process that will ensure the highest quality and safety of its products for its customers going forward.
The Blue Bell production plants in Brenham, Texas, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama, are closed, and no ice cream is being produced at this time.
“We are continuing the process of thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing each facility, including disassembling equipment, conducting extensive maintenance and repairs, and conducting employee training in microbiology and sanitization,” the company says in a statement. “We are also reviewing all of our operating procedures and every step of the production process to eliminate possible contamination pathways.”
The Brenham-based company says that all plants are, or will be doing, the following:
- Evaluating and making facility repairs, including replacing floors, floor tiles and ceiling tiles, as needed.
- Conducting thorough cleaning and sanitizing, including disassembling and steam cleaning all equipment, and inspecting and sanitizing all HVAC systems.
- Working with a team of independent microbiologists to review and revise all cleaning and sanitization procedures, and installing new control systems to provide higher hot water temperatures for cleaning and sanitizing.
- Eliminating possible contamination pathways, including redesigning work spaces to re-route traffic in production areas, placing barriers between work areas, installing additional foot washers at doors into production areas, and discontinuing use of outside materials such as wood pallets in sanitary areas.
- Establishing revised protocols and quality assurance requirements for environmental and product sample testing, including a more rigorous monitoring program for Listeria.
- Destroying existing cardboard containers, boxes and product wrappers that could potentially provide a pathway for contamination. Plants will discontinue the reuse of cardboard shipping sleeves.
The Sylacauga facility has been closed for cleaning and sanitizing since April 24. The facility is undergoing extensive maintenance and improvements, as well as a thorough cleaning and sanitization program.
The Broken Arrow plant has been closed for cleaning and sanitizing since April 3. Numerous cleaning, upgrade and facility construction projects are under way or have been completed, 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 main Brenham plant has been closed for repairs, cleaning and sanitizing since April 24. A full assessment of facility repairs and upgrades is under way, including floor modifications. In the interim, workers have begun a variety of equipment disassembly, maintenance and cleaning processes, and continue to receive training. Additionally, the design and traffic flow patterns of the processing and production areas are being evaluated to identify potential improvements to enhance production and cleaning efficiency, and eliminate potential contamination pathways.
The FDA has completed its inspection of each of the plants, and the company says it is in the process of preparing a detailed response to the agency’s inspection observations.
The Brenham snack plant also is closed, and a full assessment of facility repairs and upgrades is under way.