Listeria Fears Shut Down Blue Bell and Jeni's Ice Cream Production

Posted on April 25, 2015

It's a tough spring for ice cream lovers. Blue Bell ice cream fans (including us) are still reeling from the fact that listeria was found in some of the beloved Texas company's products. Blue Bell Creameries has now pulled all products from shelves nationwide and closed all its plants in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama.

Now another popular ice cream brand -- Jeni's -- had to issue a recall for all of its products nationwide. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture found listeria in one sample of ice cream on Thursday. No illnesses have been reported so far, but that's cold comfort as listeria symptoms can take up to 70 days to appear. Most symptoms appear within a couple of weeks, though. Listeria illness can be deadly for the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Jeni's has also closed all its plants and -- like Blue Bell -- has hired experts to perform intense cleaning in all its production facilities. The Jeni's CEO says they have found listeria in the production facilities, but do not know where it came from. The company is looking into contamination from a supplier, as well as from all other possible sources. Blue Bell is also looking into its suppliers and all other sources as they hunt for a cause.

Listeria cannot survive in freezing temperatures, but it can live in a refrigerated area. The FDA and the CDC have been called in to advise and to find out where the listeria contamination is coming from. Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC said, "Based upon what we know now, there is no connection between these two ice cream companies nor any reason to suspect that ice cream as a whole poses any special foodborne disease risk." Others are not so sure, pointing out that it is quite odd for two such similar, smaller ice cream companies to have a listeria outbreak.

Jeni's was founded by dessert chef Jeni Britton Bauer, whose cookbook Splendid Ice Cream at Home won a James Beard Award. The company uses milk from local, grass-fed cows and eschews artificial colors and flavorings. Blue Bell was founded by local farmers in Brenham, Texas, in 1907. The company is still family-owned. So, two privately owned ice cream companies that are beginning to outsell other brands are suddenly contaminated by listeria. The FDA is still investigating.