Blue Bell slammed with record $17.25 million criminal fine

BEXAR COUNTY, Tex. (Texas News Radio) — Blue Bell Creameries has been ordered to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties in connection to its 2015 listeria outbreak.

Federal prosecutors said Blue Bell pleaded guilty in May 2020 to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products.

The company was sentenced Thursday.

In February 2015, the state officials notified Blue Bell that samples from two of its ice cream products contained listeria.  The company had its delivery drivers remove the remaining stock of those two products from store shelves, but did not issue a recall.

Two weeks later, state officials told the company a third product also tested positive for listeria.  Blue Bell again did not issue a recall.

Tests done by the FDA and CDC in March 2015 linked the listeria strain in one of the Blue Bell products to a strain that severely sickened five people in Kansas.

The two federal agencies and Blue Bell then issued recalls.

A second recall came after more listeria contamination was found in products produced at the company’s Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant.

FDA inspections found sanitation issues at both the Brenham and Broken Arrow production facilities.  Specifically, they found problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating factory conditions.

The company closed all of its plants in April 2015 to clean and update the facilities.  Since then, federal prosecutors say Blue Bell has taken significant steps to enhance sanitation processes.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the $17.25 million fine is the largest criminal penalty in a food safety case ever.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” said 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.”

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