Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries issued a voluntary recall Monday night for all of its products on the market after two samples of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream tested positive for listeria, a potentially deadly bacteria.
Blue Bell issued the recall that includes ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks distributed in 23 states and international locations because other products "have the potential to be contaminated," according to a statement from the company.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday:
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"We encourage everyone to check their freezers for any Blue Bell brand products and throw them away or return them for a refund where they were purchased. You shouldn't eat, sell or serve any Blue Bell products, regardless of where they were produced or their expiration date."
Blue Bell operates three plants — Brenham and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama — and the Oklahoma plant was closed last month after tests showed listeria contamination there.
A Blue Bell spokesman told NBC 5 the company thought the bacteria was isolated at the Oklahoma plant, but these new tests came back positive at the Brenham plant.
Paul Kruse, president and CEO of Blue Bell, said in a video statement Monday night that the company "can't say with certainty" how the bacteria was introduced to the manufacturing line.
"We are heartbroken over this situation and apologize to all our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been dedicated to making the highest quality ice cream we possibly could and we're committed to fixing the problem," he said. "Ice cream is a joy and a pleasure to eat. It certainly is for me and I do it everyday and it should never be a cause for concern. And for that, we do apologize and we are going to get it right."
Texas grocery stores, including Albertsons, Tom Thumb, Randalls and Kroger, began pulling all Blue Bell ice cream products Monday.
The first recall in the family-owned creamery's 108-year history was issued last month after the CDC linked ice cream contaminated with listeria to three deaths at a Kansas hospital. Five others in Kansas and Texas were sickened with listeriosis.
The company said Monday's nationwide recall includes products distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets in 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, Wyoming and international locations.
The manufacturing facility in Oklahoma where operations were suspended earlier this month for sanitizing will remain closed as Blue Bell continues to investigate the source of the bacteria, the statement said.
Blue Bell said the products would be off store shelves for "two to three weeks at least" until the source of the bacteria is found.
Blue Bell is implementing a process to test all of its products before releasing them to the market, with plans to resume limited distribution soon.
The company said it is also expanding its cleaning and sanitization system, beefing up its employee training, expanding its swabbing system by 800 percent to include more surfaces and is sending daily samples to a microbiology laboratory for testing.
Listeriosis generally only affects the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies. Healthy, younger adults and most children can usually consume listeria with no ill effects or mild illness, such as fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington told NBC 5 it should have more information online for consumers Tuesday morning.
Anyone who has purchased Blue Bell items should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, call Blue Bell at 866-608-3940 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays or visit bluebell.com.