September 17, 2020: Blue Bell Creameries Ordered To Pay $17.25 Million In Criminal Penalties Following 2015 Listeria Outbreak

A federal court in Texas has ordered ice cream manufacturer, Blue Bell Creameries L.P., to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for shipping Listeria contaminated products linked to a deadly 2015 listeriosis outbreak.

Blue Bell Creameries pleaded guilty in May 2020 to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products.  The $17.25 million fine is the largest criminal penalty imposed following a conviction in a food safety case, and was reported by the Justice Department to be consistent with the terms of a please agreement previous filed in the case.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” said an Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.”

The plea agreement and criminal information filed against Blue Bell allege that the company distributed ice cream products that were manufactured under insanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 

The U.S. Department Of Justice’s press release indicated that according to the plea agreement with the company:

  • Texas state officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that samples of two ice cream products from the company’s Brenham, Texas factory tested positive for the foodborne pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes.
  • As a result, Blue Bell directed its delivery drivers to remove remaining stock of the two ice cream products from store shelves, however, the company did not recall the products or issue any formal communication to inform customers about the potential Listeria contamination
  • Two weeks after Blue Bell received notification of the first positive Listeria tests, Texas state officials informed the company that additional state-led testing confirmed Listeria in a third product.  Blue Bell again chose not to issue any formal notification to customers regarding the positive tests. Blue Bell’s customers included military installations.  
  • In March 2015, tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked the strain of Listeria found in one of the Blue Bell ice cream products to a strain that sickened five patients at a Kansas hospital with listeriosis, a severe infectious illness caused by eating Listeria-contaminated food. 
  • The FDA, CDC, and Blue Bell all issued public recall notifications on March 13, 2015. 
  • Subsequent tests confirmed Listeria contamination in a product made at another Blue Bell facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, which led to a second recall announcement on March 23, 2015. 
  • According to the plea agreement with the company, FDA inspections in March and April 2015 revealed sanitation issues at the Brenham and Broken Arrow facilities, including problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating factory conditions that could lead to insanitary water dripping into product mix during the manufacturing process. 
  • Blue Bell temporarily closed all of its plants in late April 2015 to clean and update the facilities. Blue Bell re-opened its facilities in late 2015.

Blue Bell Creameries Listeria Outbreak – The Final Case Count

In its final outbreak update, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a total of 10 people with listeriosis related to the Blue Bell ice cream Listeria outbreak were reported from 4 states: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). All ill people were hospitalized. Three deaths were reported from Kansas (3).

Contact The Weinberg Law Firm For A Free Food Poisoning Lawsuit Evaluation

Please see Listeria Lawyer and Salmonella Mushroom Outbreak to learn more about the Weinberg Law Firm and our food poisoning legal services.


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