BROKEN ARROW, OK – Blue Bell ice cream has temporarily shut down one of its manufacturing plants over the discovery of listeria contamination in a serving of ice cream originating from that plant.
Public health officials warned consumers on Friday not to eat a specific 3-ounce serving of Blue Bell ice cream commonly sold to institutions. The containers are marked with the letters O, P, Q, R, S or T behind the coding date.
The warning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not affect other Blue Bell ice cream, including other 3-ounce servings, but Blue Bell has recalled other products.
The company is shutting down the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant “out of an abundance of caution” to search for a possible cause of contamination.
It is the third time Blue Bell has taken action in light of a listeria outbreak at a Kansas hospital that served the company’s ice cream.
Listeria monocytogenes was recently found in a cup of ice cream recovered from the hospital.
The cup contaminated with the bacteria was produced at the Broken Arrow plant in April 2014, Blue Bell said. And, according to the CDC, listeria bacteria was found in additional samples of the same product that were recovered from the plant.
The bacteria in the hospital sample and the factory sample appeared to match each other genetically, the CDC said. But they did not appear identical to listeria samples taken from patients infected in the Kansas outbreak.
In a separate outbreak in Texas, the CDC did find that listeria samples taken from patients who came down with listeriosis between 2010 and 2014 in a hospital that served 3-ounce Blue Bell cups matched the listeria in recovered samples.
None of this means the ice cream is the source of either spate of the infections.
“Investigation to determine whether these illnesses are related to exposure to Blue Bell products is ongoing,” the CDC said.
In early March, in light of the Kansas listeria outbreak, Blue Bell recalled a group of products that were made at a plant in Texas. It later added 3-ounce cup servings to the recall.
Five people were infected and three died in the past year in Kansas from listeria that might be linked to Blue Bell Creameries products, according to the CDC.
All five of them were hospitalized at the same hospital before developing listeriosis, the CDC said. At least four of them had consumed milkshakes made with Blue Bell ice cream before developing the infection.
“We are devastated and know that Blue Bell has to be and can be better than this,” Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president, said in a statement. “Quality and safety have always been our top priorities. We are deeply saddened and concerned for all those who have been affected.”
The CDC advises that individuals and institutions should check their freezers for the recalled products and throw them away.
In a statement on its website, Blue Bell said “this recall in no way includes Blue Bell ice cream half gallons, pints, quarts, 3 gallons or other 3 oz. cups.”
This has been the first product recall in the 108-year history of Blue Bell Creameries, the company said.
Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with listeria, and primarily affects the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of a listeria infection are fever and muscle aches, sometimes associated with diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms.
In the United States, an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill each year; approximately 16% of these illnesses result in death. Cervical infections caused by listeriosis in pregnant women may result in spontaneous abortion during the second or third trimesters or stillbirth.