Prominent Texas businessman Bass invests in Blue Bell

Blue Bell ice cream rests on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kansas. In the wake of a deadly listeria outbreak in ice cream, the Justice Department is warning food companies that they could face criminal and civil penalties if they poison their customers. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — An investment by a prominent Texas businessman will ensure the return of Blue Bell ice cream to the market after listeria contamination prompted a shutdown in manufacturing, the company said Tuesday.

Billionaire businessman Sid Bass, an investor and philanthropist whose father and uncle built an oil fortune, has become a partner in Brenham-based Blue Bell Creameries, CEO and President Paul Kruse said in a statement.

The privately held company stopped production at its Brenham; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; and Sylacauga, Arkansas, facilities after issuing a national recall in April because of concerns about listeria. Its ice cream was linked to 10 listeria illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.

A Food and Drug Administration investigation found that Blue Bell knew that it had listeria in one of its plants for almost two years before the recall.

No date has been given for when Blue Bell products could be back in stores. Blue Bell last week announced plans to test production runs at its Alabama plant. After a trial period, the company plans to begin building inventory to resume commercial sales.

The company did not reveal the amount of Bass’ investment, but Kruse said Bass made a “significant investment” and the “additional capital will ensure the successful return of our ice cream.”

Blue Bell is extremely popular in its home state, and Bass and his family have deep ties to Fort Worth. Forbes last year ranked Bass as the 324th wealthiest person in the U.S.

“Blue Bell is the quality leader in the ice cream industry,” he said in the statement. “We believe quality is the principle attribute that ensures the success, growth and longevity of a business.”

Bass did not return a message Tuesday seeking additional comment.

Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness, particularly in older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Contaminated products were found at Blue Bell’s Texas and Oklahoma plants. Tests found listeria on a plant catwalk at the Alabama factory, but not in ice cream samples, according to Alabama health officials.

The recall prompted Blue Bell to lay off a third of its workforce.

Blue Bell said it would implement improved testing procedures, reconfigure lines and equipment, and add troughs and splash guards to ensure condensation does not drip into ice cream products. Blue Bell will also require workers to wear provided coverings in production areas.

Chris Pisarski, a research analyst for New York-based PrivCo, a data provider on privately held companies, estimates revenue for Blue Bell this year could fall as low as $500 million. The company in 2014 was estimated to have had $680 million in revenue, up from nearly $621 million the year before, Pisarski said Tuesday.

PrivCo derives its numbers by evaluating units sold, sales in some markets, market share and other data.

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