A federal report released by the United States Department of Agriculture has found that Blue Bell —which recalled its entire product line in April after a series of listeria scares and related illnesses that resulted in three deaths — likely became aware of the presence of listeria in one of its plants in 2013, but did nothing.
The report, which was released to the Houston Chronicle under the Freedom of Information Act, describes a “presumptive positive” result for listeria on surfaces in Blue Bell’s Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant in 2013. The company, however, failed to improve its sanitation efforts at the time, and only suspended operations at the facility in April of this year.
“That's as bad as it gets,” Seattle attorney and food safety advocate Bill Marler told the Houston Chronicle. “You're just not doing what you're supposed to do.”
Furthermore, Blue Bell also failed to adapt its sanitation program despite finding higher levels of coliform bacteria than permitted in the state of Oklahoma.
According to the New York State Department of Health, coliform is an “indicator” organism that “can be a reasonable indication of whether other pathogenic bacteria are present.”
Most coliform bacteria do not cause disease, but they include the species E. coli, which can cause serious illness.