WASHINGTON (AP/KXAN) — Listeria bacteria was found in Blue Bell ice cream’s Oklahoma plant as far back as March 2013. That’s according to test results released Thursday by the government.
The company continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the FDA said was inadequate cleaning.
The report indicated the Broken Arrow, Okla. location had five samples test positive for Listeria in 2013. The samples were taken from non-food contact area within the processing room and kitchen and production equipment that didn’t have contact with food.
“As is standard procedure for any such positive results, the company would immediately clean the surfaces and swab until the tests were negative,” a Blue Bell spokesperson said in a statement. “We thought our cleaning process took care of any problems, but in hindsight, it was not adequate, which is why we are currently conducting such a comprehensive re-evaluation of all our operations.”
Three deaths are now linked to the ice cream, and the company recalled all of its products last month.
The Food and Drug Administration released results of investigations into Blue Bell’s plants in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama. The most extensive violations were found in Oklahoma, where the FDA listed 16 separate positive tests for listeria on equipment and in ice cream from March 2013 through January 2015.
Continuing Coverage: Blue Bell Recall
The Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant was closed April 3, and operations in Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama were halted April 24. The company said no ice cream is being produced at this time and there is no firm date on when Blue Bell products will return to store shelves.
“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.”
Blue Bell said production lines remain closed while they continue “thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing each facility, including disassembling equipment, conducting extensive maintenance and repairs, and conducting employee training in microbiology and sanitization.”
The repairs include replacing floors, floor tiles and ceiling tiles. Work spaces are also being redesigned to reroute traffic in production areas to eliminate possible contamination pathways.