Blue Bell continues plant cleanups

Blue Bell Creameries have collected about 8 million gallons of ice cream and ice cream products from retailers, institutions and other outlets in the United States and internationally as part of its effort to assure consumers of the safety of its products after the discovery of Listeria (bacteria) in its ice cream.

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.

The Broken Arrow plant has been closed for cleaning and sanitizing since April 3. Numerous cleaning, upgrade and facility construction projects are well underway 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 Food and Drug Administration has completed its inspection process for the Broken Arrow plant, and the company is in the process of preparing a detailed response to the agency’s inspection observations.

Consumers who may still have Blue Bell products are encouraged to dispose of them or return them to a local retailer for a refund.  Consumers should call 979-836-7977, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., with any questions.

A company statement read, “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.  We are also reviewing all of our operating procedures and every step of the production process to eliminate possible contamination pathways.”

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.

Continuing employee training in microbiology and detailed cleaning and sanitization methods and systems.

The extensive and detailed process of updating, cleaning and sanitizing the three production facilities, as well as training employees and implementing new programs and procedures, will take longer than Blue Bell initially anticipated.  Each facility will have its own timetable and production may resume in some locations before others.

“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 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.”