Blue Bell Creameries has voluntarily suspended operations at an Oklahoma plant that officials had previously connected to a foodborne illness linked to the deaths of three people, the Texas-based creamery announced late Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people not eat any Blue Bell brand products made at the company's Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, facility.
"We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide our consumers with safe products and to preserve the trust we have built with them and their families for more than a century," the company said in a statement.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been notified of the company's decision.
Back in March, the illnesses prompted the Brenham, Texas-based creamery to issue the first recall in its 108-year history. The company and health officials said a 3-ounce cup of ice cream contaminated with listeriosis was traced to a plant in Broken Arrow.
The ice cream product — cups of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla — is not sold in retail locations and is shipped in bulk to "institutional accounts" such as hospitals in 23 states that comprise less than 5 percent of the company's sales, The Associated Press reported.
Earlier in March the company also recalled ten products from a production line at a plant in Brenham.
Listeriosis, also known as listeria, is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
The CDC said based on information now available, consumers are recommended to not eat any Blue Bell brand products made at the Oklahoma facility and that retailers and institutions do not sell or serve them.
Blue Bell products made at the Oklahoma facility can be identified by checking for the letters “O,” “P,” “Q,” “R,” “S,” and “T” following the “code date” printed on the bottom of the product package, according to the CDC.
NBC 5 found multiple Blue Bell ice cream products in several different flavors with those identifying letters on North Texas store shelves Friday evening.
A Blue Bell company spokesperson told NBC 5's Bianca Castro that the company follows the advice of the Food and Drug Administration, which has not advised the creamery to recall the products produced at its Oklahoma facility.
As of Friday night, the company has not its expanded its current recall.
The company said it will "thoroughly inspect the facility for any possible problems that may have led to the contamination of some of our ice cream products in the past few weeks." Once the investigation is complete, the Blue Bell plant will reopen and return to operation, the company said.
In addition to the Broken Arrow plant, the company has two plants in Brenham and one in Sylacauga, Alabama. Those plants will continue to operate and supply products to retail stores.
The recalled ice cream had been shipped to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
For more information, contact Blue Bell at 979-836-7977, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.