Listeria Blue Bell

The Outbreak:  Five people in Kansas have become ill as part of a Listeria outbreak and three deaths have been reported. Patients became ill with listeriosis after hospitalizations for unrelated causes at the same hospital. They became ill between January 2014 and January 2015 after a majority were known to have consumed Blue Bell Creameries ice cream at the hospital. The outbreak was recently discovered after two patients were identified with the same strain of listeriosis. Further investigation identified three other patients with listeriosis who had been hospitalized for unrelated causes before the onset of listeriosis.

The FDA warned consumers about the potential contamination in Blue Bell Creameries’ products. Kansas health officials are warning consumers who have purchased the following Blue Bell Creameries novelty items and have not consumed the items to discard them:

  • Chocolate Chip Country Cookie
  • Great Divide Bar
  • Sour Pop Green Apple Bar
  • Cotton Candy Bar
  • Scoops
  • Vanilla Stick Slices
  • Almond Bar
  • No Sugar Added Mooo Bar (regular Mooo Bars are not included)

Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, the CDC said. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions.

Helpful Source of Information on Listeria:  Everything You Need To Know About Listeria During An Outbreak  Also, FDA Weighs in on Deadly Listeria Ice Cream Outbreak in Kansas   and CDC: Outbreak of Listeria Linked to Blue Bell Creameries Ice Cream Products 

KAKE:  A lawyer who specializes in representing victims affected by Listeriosis, tells KAKE News there are two reasons to be worried about the spread of the bacteria after a Wichita hospital has been linked to five cases and three deaths.

Bill Marler of Seattle has represented dozens of Listeriosis victims, including Kansas residents from the 2011 outbreak caused by cantaloupes that killed 33 people. He says these cases are becoming more common because people are filling their fridges with frozen items.

“We’re doing a lot more ready to eat products that are kept in cool temps,” says Marler.

He says another reason for concern about the outbreak is it can take up to 70 days from the time you eat the product, to when you get sick.

“Listeria is it’s a bug that loves refrigerated, cool environment,” says Marler. “So that’s why you see the outbreaks involving things like cold products like ice cream.”

Blue Bell is taking responsibility for the bacteria in its products. CEO Paul Kruze says the machine used to create the ice cream at the Blue Bell factory wasn’t properly sanitized and caused the outbreak.

“If it is not sanitized properly, you don’t get it just like it should be those things can occur, and that pretty much appears to be the case,” says Kruze.

While this outbreak has been traced back to Blue Bell products consumed at Saint Francis, Blue Bell items were also sold at convenience stores. Marler urges everyone clears their freezers of the the contaminated products.

“Because this is a frozen product, it’s really important for those who receive this product, and it appears that most of it was institutional, they need to get it off the shelf, out of the freezers because what you don’t want to see happen is something to stay in there and 6 months from now that someone eats it again.”

Listeriosis kills around 25 percent of people infected.

Time:   The bacteria grows very well at refrigerator temperatures, even as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the fridge, the more opportunity the bacteria has to grow.

“It’s why it’s a problem for cooler foods like ice cream and cheese,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Washington state.

The FDA was able to confirm that three strains of the bacteria came from a single Blue Bell production line at one facility in Brenham, Texas, though the agency has not disclosed a precise point of contact. Blue Bell says one of its machines produced the problem.

“Likely what happened is the piece of machinery was contaminated. The liquid form of the ice cream goes through the machine when it’s not yet frozen, but around 40 degrees, and it’s a great place for [listeria] to grow,” says Marler.

KWCH:  Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer from Seattle, Washington, said Listeria cases like the one in Kansas are becoming more common.

“Listeria is really a bug that’s causing the most food borne illnesses that I’ve seeing over the last five years,” said Marler via SKYPE.

Marler has represented dozens of victims and their families affected by the bacteria, including 60 from the Colorado listeria outbreak in cantaloupes. Some of those were Kansas resident.

“70% of the people who got sick were 70 years of age and older,” he said. “It hits people who are most vulnerable in our society and it can be incredibly devastating.”

Marler said with the recent outbreak in Kansas, through Blue Bell ice cream products, it’s likely there will be more cases discovered.

“I think the unfortunate thing is we could see those numbers rise because the incubation period, when you ingest the food to when you get sick, could be 3-70 days. So if you ingested it a month ago you still have the potential to be ill,” said Marler. “It’s really, really important for the media to get the info out to people so they pull this stuff out from their freezers, you really don’t want people reaching into their freezers six months from now, eating this and getting sick.”

As for who will be held responsible for the outbreak.

“Under Kansas law and Texas law, the manufacturer of the product, Blue Bell has ultimate responsibility. It’s hard to imagine any possibility that seems reasonable to sue the hospital,” he said. “You have to look at the entity who had the last best chance to fix it before it got into the market place and I think here unfortunately it’s Blue Bell.”

Marler stressed the importance of people checking their freezers for any of these Blue Bell products that might have been left behind. He said if anyone believes they’ve eaten one of the contaminated products and are feeling sick, they should go to a doctor immediately.

“For people who are immune compromised they are going to know it because they are going to be sick very fast,” he said. “For the vast majority of people consuming Listeria contaminated products may give you a stomach ache and typical food borne illness, that may not get you to a doctor.”

Dallas News:  Attorney Bill Marler is a partner at Seattle-based Marler Clark, also called “The Food Safety Law Firm.” He said it generally does not take a year for a pattern of Listeria-related infections to surface.

“The time line seems incredibly long …in my opinion, but could be the fact that the product was frozen,” he said. “Getting the product out of freezers is critical. People who purchased recalled products need to check freezers.”

AP:  It’s not unusual to see listeria outbreaks linked to dairy products, including ice cream, said William Marler, an attorney who represented victims of a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people and was traced to a Colorado cantaloupe farm.

In December, an ice cream company in Snohomish, Washington, recalled nearly a year’s worth of ice cream and related products because of possible listeria contamination that sickened two men.

Marler said he thought Blue Bell had responded appropriately once it knew its products were linked to illnesses and deaths. His only criticism was that Blue Bell didn’t mention the patients who were sickened or died in Kansas in a statement on its Web site, instead highlighting that this was the first product recall in its 108-year history.

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 cantaloupe, cheese, celery and milk.