Source of Blue Bell Listeria Never Pinpointed

Company says it has focused on massive cleanup in its three plants

As Blue Bell begins its much-anticipated return to store shelves, the company acknowledges the exact source of the listeria that led to the total recall has never been identified.

The Brenham-based creamery said it has focused its efforts on a massive cleanup.

“Because listeria is ubiquitous in the environment, trying to definitively identify a single source of contamination is not necessarily the best approach,” Blue Bell spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf said in an email. “So we’ve adopted a broadly-focused remediation plan aimed at identifying and addressing any and all possible sources of contamination.”

Blue Bell operates three plants -- in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama -- and contaminated ice cream was linked to all three locations.

Four years of health department inspections at Blue Bell's Brenham facility, obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, raised questions about cleanliness and freshness before the listeria outbreak.

The health department never gave Blue Bell a warning letter or fined the company, but inspections did find things like "crickets in milk storage rooms, mildew and black mop water."

Another inspection, in 2013, noted, "Rainbow Fruit Freeze is now 120 hours old! Use ASAP."

Blue Bell responded: "Whenever inspections raised any issues at all, we have always taken prompt action to address and correct them."

The only Blue Bell plant now operating is in Alabama, but on Monday the company announced that Oklahoma had given the green light to re-opening.

Under a strict set of guidelines, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture will require that Blue Bell test every batch of ice cream it makes for one year.

It is unclear when the company’s plant will go online again, Van Dorf said.

Blue Bell ice cream should be available in North Texas stores in two to four weeks.

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