Blue Bell Creameries has been hit with a $19.3 million dollar fine for selling ice cream they knew was contaminated with listeria. $17.25 million is the criminal fine for knowingly selling tainted product. $2.1 million is to settle civil claims for making the ice cream in conditions they knew were unsanitary, and then selling those products to federal facilities. They also plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products. The listeria outbreak in 2015 killed 3 people and sickened countless others. Their former CEO, Paul Kruse, has also been charged with seven felony counts including conspiracy and fraud for directing Blue Bell employees to remove contaminated products from stores without notifying sellers or consumers that the ice cream could be potentially contaminated.
The FDA began investigating Blue Bell back in 2015 and found at least seven rare strains of listeria in their products. They claim that CEO Kruse hatched a scheme to keep the information from customers by removing products from stores without specifically stating that the products were potentially contaminated with listeria. Instead, prosecutors allege that employees were told to lie, and say the ice cream was pulled for an “unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine.”
Blue Bell has issued the following statement regarding the settlement that states in part, “We learned hard lessons and turned them into determination to make the safest, most delicious ice cream available. We believe we are a leader in ice cream safety, with upgraded production facilities, training, safety procedures, and environmental and product testing programs. We have worked closely with federal and state regulators as we implemented comprehensive food safety measures. We brought in independent food safety experts and consultants to ensure transparency and accountability. Food safety is our highest priority, and we know we must continue to be vigilant every day.”