Blue Bell gets approval to resume Alabama plant production

FILE - In this April 10, 2015 file photo, Blue Bell ice cream rests on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kansas. In the wake of a deadly listeria outbreak in ice cream, the Justice Department is warning food companies that they could face criminal and civil penalties if they poison their customers. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — Blue Bell can resume production and sale of ice cream manufactured at its Alabama plant, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.

A state inspection found that Blue Bell’s creamery in Sylacauga, Alabama, meets all state public health standards, said Ron Dawsey, director of the department’s Division of Food, Milk and Lodging.

The finding leaves no state objection to resumed production at the plant, Dawsey said.

The privately held company stopped production at its Alabama; Brenham, Texas; and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plants after issuing a national recall in April because of concerns about listeria. Its ice cream was linked to 10 listeria illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. The recall prompted Blue Bell to lay off a third of its workforce.

Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness, particularly in older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Contaminated products were found at Blue Bell’s Texas and Oklahoma plants. Tests found listeria on a plant catwalk at the Alabama factory, but not in ice cream samples, according to Alabama health officials.

Blue Bell, which is based in Brenham, Texas, underwent an extensive cleaning and decontamination process at its plants following the recall.

No date has been given for when Blue Bell products could be back in stores as its flagship Brenham creamery and the Broken Arrow plant remain closed, Blue Bell spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf said Wednesday.

“We are still finalizing our distribution plan, and do not have a date when our products will return to market. We are making good progress on our facilities in Broken Arrow and Brenham, but do not have a date when production will resume,” she said.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Fort Worth, Texas billionaire Sid Bass will lend the company up to $125 million, and that the investment is essential for the popular ice-cream maker to remain in business, according to a published report. Under the terms, the Bass family would get a one-third stake in the company.

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