DOJ begins Blue Bell investigation
- The Department of Justice has begun an investigation into Blue Bell Creameries following a listeria outbreak caused by the company's ice cream products earlier this year. The outbreak was linked to three deaths and led to a full product recall and the shutdown of all Blue Bell's creameries.
- An investigation led by the FDA previously found listeria contamination in all three creameries, and according to records, knowledge of contamination in one plant dates back to 2013. FDA's investigation also uncovered unsanitary equipment and condensation dripping into the ice cream products.
- DOJ's current objective is to determine what exactly Blue Bell executives knew about the contaminations and unsanitary conditions, when they knew, and what they did in response.
Leading the investigation is Patrick Hearn of DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch, who also prosecuted Stewart Parnell and other Peanut Corporation of America executives implicated in a case involving a salmonella outbreak. Parnell received a 28-year prison sentence which he has since appealed.
"[Blue Bell] said earlier this year it conducted a comprehensive review of its operations and put in place enhanced procedures and equipment designed to ensure its products are safe," The Wall Street Journal reported.
Since the outbreak ended, Blue Bell has made fixes and passed the health inspections needed to reopen its production facilities, and the company has been returning its products to different markets in phases starting Aug. 31.
Food safety has been a critical industry talking point throughout 2015. This includes the progress of the Food Safety Modernization Act, abundance of high-profile recalls, and the potential proof requirement by Congress to determine a defendant's state of mind in all federal criminal cases, which would impact food safety misdemeanor cases.