In May 2020, Blue Bell pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing an adulterated ice cream product. Three people died and 10 were hospitalized because of the outbreak.
According to the Department of Justice, the $17.25 million fine is the largest-ever criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case.
“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.”
According to the Department of Justice, the plea agreement and criminal information filed against Blue Bell allege that the company distributed ice cream products that were manufactured under insanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The plea agreement states “FDA inspections in March and April 2015 revealed sanitation issues at the Brenham and Broken Arrow facilities, including problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating factory conditions that could lead to insanitary water dripping into product mix during the manufacturing process.”
Blue Bell closed all its facilities in late April 2015 to clean and update its plants.
“Since re-opening its facilities in late 2015, Blue Bell has taken significant steps to enhance sanitation processes and enact a program to test products for Listeria prior to shipment,” the Department of Justice noted in its press release.
This summer Blue Bell’s former CEO and president was charged in relation to the case.
In 2016, Blue Bell was also ordered to pay $850,000 in fines, which could be reduced to $175,000 if it complied with testing and inspection requirements.
Blue Bell provided NewsNation with the following statement:
“Today’s court action closes a difficult chapter in Blue Bell’s history. We are a new, different and better Blue Bell. We learned hard lessons and turned them into determination to make the safest, most delicious ice cream available, with upgraded production facilities, training, safety procedures, and environmental and product testing programs. Food safety is our highest priority, and we know we must continue to be vigilant every day.
We are grateful to our employees and our customers. We have been humbled by your loyalty and support and are committed to doing everything we can to continue to earn your trust.”
NewsNation affiliate KXAN and WDAF contributed to this report