The Blue Bell recall underscores how Listeria outbreaks can occur without being traced to a specific product, said Bill Marler, a Seattle food-safety lawyer. Blue Bell’s Listeria strains have been matched to 10 illnesses in four states, dating to 2010.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Listeria strains found in Blue Bell products were matched to human illnesses using a national computer database, called PulseNet. About 800 listeriosis cases are added to the list annually.
“It shows that the outbreak was going on with no knowledge by Blue Bell, no knowledge by the CDC and no knowledge by health departments,” Marler said. “And the people who had gotten sick had no knowledge that it was the Blue Bell ice cream that made them sick.”
“It has evolved with human refrigeration,” said Seattle attorney Bill Marler. “In a sense, we’ve created this monster by our desire to have mass-produced food in cool, wet environments.”
Marler, who built a career on major verdicts for food-borne illness victims, and who may take on clients in this outbreak, said he thinks Blue Bell runs pretty clean plants. But listeria can lurk in crevices of equipment even with aggressive cleaning.
“That doesn’t mean Blue Bell gets a pass legally or morally on this,” he said. “But listeria is a hard thing.”
Bill Marler, a personal injury lawyer and food safety advocate who is now working with Snoqualmie to make changes at its factory, said that the company had since overhauled its production processes, installing new flooring and sanitizing equipment, and adopting third-party sample testing for all batches of ice cream before they are shipped.Outside experts brought in to track down the source of the listeria infection discovered traces of the bacteria on pallets used by a supplier to deliver milk to the plant, Mr. Marler said. Snoqualmie now keeps pallets out of the production room, and it has also strengthened rules on cleaning uniforms, boots and strip curtains in production zones. Snoqualmie was cleared to start shipping ice cream again after 60 days.Mr. Marler stressed that Snoqualmie had immediately decided to recall all its products even though only a certain line of small-tub ice creams had been linked to the listeria case.“Limiting the recall might seem like a good idea,” he said. “But then if you keep expanding your recall, it’s a death by a thousand cuts. You look like you’re dragging your feet.”
“Once the bacteria gets into a plant, it can grow very rapidly and is really difficult to eradicate,” Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in food-safety cases, tells them.
More Blue Bell-related listeria cases are likely on the horizon, according to Seattle-based foodborne-illness attorney Bill Marler.
Marler said he has been contacted by “dozens” of people who have been ill with gastrointestinal symptoms and have eaten Blue Bell products — “but there is no way to link them legally. The only sure test is a blood test (or spinal fluid), and you need to be very sick for that usually.” He said he has also heard from several who have listeria infections “but have not yet been linked to Blue Bell genetically,” and that “there are a number of background listeria cases that may or may not be linked.”
“Listeria is an environmental pathogen that loves a cool, wet environment and grows very well at refrigerator temperatures,” Marler said. “That is why it’s such a problem in manufacturing facilities like meat, cheese, cantaloupe and now ice cream. Once it gets into a plant, it is very hard to get rid of.”
“What we know is that the problem has been going on in these [Blue Bell] plants for some time,” he said. “But for South Carolina doing an apparently random test on product in February, no one would have known about this at all.”
Food safety attorney Bill Marler said he was “not particularly surprised” by the announcement.
Once tests show Listeria is in a finished product it is likely it is in the manufacturing facility, which is tough to combat, he said.
“Now that it’s expanded, it shows that Listeria is endemic in their plants,” he said.
“What is sad about the Blue Bell situation, had it had more thorough testing of product and more thorough cleaning of its plant and equipment beforehand, an outbreak could have been avoided. The devastation to Blue Bell’s customers and its reputation could have been avoided,” he said.
Marler said other companies have launched broad recalls, including Peter Pan peanut butter, which had years’ worth of products recalled.
“It’s a big hit, but there are a lot of companies that have taken a big hit and come back,” Marler said.
“Once the bacteria gets into a plant, it can grow very rapidly and is really difficult to eradicate,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in food-safety cases.
Frozen desserts have never been a usual suspect for listeria outbreaks, a fact that baffles Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who is helping Snoqualmie through its crisis and who routinely sues food manufacturers. He won a major verdict for one of the Jack in the Box victims.
Listeria thrives in cold, damp places. Ice cream companies and regulators could have been testing for listeria all along, Marler said. He predicts more illnesses and more ice creams linked to listeria before industry catches on – just as costs, tests and safety in ground beef ramped up in the 1990s and early 2000s after E. coli poisonings.
“In six months, instead of having no testing … on ice cream, everybody except tiny companies are going to be testing and swabbing in their facilities looking for listeria,” Marler said. “You won’t see as many recalls, and you won’t see as many illnesses, and that’s exactly what happened with hamburger.”
Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria outbreaks. The Listeria lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Listeria lawyers have litigated Listeria cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as caramel apples, cantaloupe, cheese, celery and milk.