Blue Bell Ice Cream on Monday will begin an intensive cleaning program at all four production facilities in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas after a number of listeria illnesses were linked to the ice cream.
The company recalled all of its products Monday after two samples of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream tested positive for listeria in March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday the number of listeria illnesses nationwide linked to Blue Bell products has risen to 10.
At the same time they begin the intensive cleaning, the Texas-based ice cream maker will start a new training program for employees at those facilities.
"After a thorough review of operations and discussions with an expert microbiologist, it was decided this cleaning and training program will greatly benefit Blue Bell as it moves forward," the company said in a news release Thursday.
The new training, the company said, will include the following:
- Highly aggressive cleaning techniques
- Increased actions focused on sanitation and cleanliness
- Strengthening of standard operating procedures
- Enhancements to its preventive maintenance program
- Equipment design changes
Meanwhile the company will be producing products that will be used for testing and baseline data and not for public sale.
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“We’ve always worked to make the very highest quality ice cream,” said Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse. “We intend to make a fresh start and that begins with intensive cleaning and enhanced training. This is a paradigm shifting event at Blue Bell and we want to put in place new systems to drive continuous improvement.”
Company spokesman Joe Robertson said Tuesday finding the cause of the listeria contamination is a top priority.
Still, the company "cannot say with certainty" how the bacteria was introduced to its facilities, Kruse said in a statement.
Blue Bell expects to have ice cream products back on store shelves in about three weeks.
For now, outside the distribution center in Lancaster, Texas, the ice cream trucks are parked.
Grocery stores tell NBC 5 the company is aiming for Memorial Day to get the ice cream back on the shelves.
At Pokey-O’s in Dallas, owner Kathy Oszustowicz hopes its much sooner than that date.
“It’s impossible to replace a vendor like Blue Bell,” explained Oszustowicz. “Blue Bell has a corner in the market down here, they supply everyone and they do a good job at it.”
Half of her store's ice cream case is empty, where gallons of Blue Bell would normally be. It's the same situation on store shelves.
A Blue Bell representative was at the ice cream shop earlier Thursday, Oszustowicz said, asking about the most popular flavors.
“They wanted to select the top 10 flavors to start making first. They were asking local ice cream stores what the top 10 flavors were. We were telling them what our big sellers were, [and] that’s where they’re going to start,” she explained.