Blue Bell weathers recall

Published 9:04 pm Monday, April 6, 2015

A listeria outbreak linked to three deaths has prompted a Texas ice cream company with a distribution facility in North Suffolk to issue the first product recalls in its 108-year history.

Blue Bell Creameries’ initial announcement, on March 13, included “a limited number of frozen snacks with a potential listeria problem.”

Ten days later, the company acknowledged the Food and Drug Administration reported three deaths associated with the issue, and 13 products had been recalled.

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The frozen snack items and three ice cream cup varieties had been distributed via select stores and food service accounts in 23 states, including Virginia. Jenny Van Dorf, a public relations market specialist with Blue Bell, said Sam’s Club and Kroger had suspended sales while they are “checking into their product.”

On Friday, Blue Bell Creameries announced it was voluntarily suspending operations at a plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., “out of an abundance of caution.”

Other plants would continue to operate normally, the company reported.

Van Dorf said Kroger has “not pulled Blue Bell product that was not made in Broken Arrow.”

Cartons produced in Broken Arrow, which consumers should not eat, are stamped with the letter O, P, Q, R, S or T, according to Van Dorf.

Near the beginning of 2013, the company opened what it calls a “transfer station” in a unit at North Suffolk’s Northgate Commerce Park. It also opened another, larger facility in Richmond.

Together, the two locations were to serve a 70-mile radius from Richmond with a population of almost 2.5 million, a news release stated.

The move into Virginia initially brought the company’s products to Walmart, Kroger, Walgreen’s, Farm Fresh and other chain and independent grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores, as well as Carrabba’s and Outback Steakhouse restaurants.

In November, the Economic Development Authority in Suffolk approved a $100,000 grant for the maker of America’s No. 3 top-selling branded ice cream to build a new $5.8 million, 14,000-square-foot distribution facility at Northgate.

The company reportedly also plans to open another new facility in Hanover County.

Asked if operations in Suffolk were affected, Van Dorf said the majority of Blue Bell products distributed in Virginia are not produced in Broken Arrow.

In a letter posted on the company’s website, Blue Bell Chief Executive Officer and President Paul Kruse apologized for “any anxiety or inconvenience caused by the recent recalls.”

An internal investigation into the cause of the contamination is ongoing, according to Kruse, who also stated the company is working “diligently” with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose inspectors are examining production facilities.

“We are deeply saddened and concerned for all who have been affected,” Kruse wrote.

Blue Bell Ice Cream half gallons, pints, quarts and 3 gallons, or 3 oz. cups other than chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, are not included in the recall, according to a news release.