Texas Health Agency Outlines Requirements for Blue Bell

State health inspectors will regularly be at the Brenham plant to test ice cream and other items. For at least two years after resuming production, Blue Bell must report any presumptive positive test result for Listeria in a product or ingredient to DSHS within 24 hours.

The Texas Department of State Health Services on May 14 finalized the requirements Blue Bell must meet in the wake of its Listeria scare. The company has agreed to the terms it must meet before reopening its plant in Brenham, Texas. And on May 15, the company announced it had to lay off hundreds of workers amid its extended shutdown.

The requirements are as follows: Blue Bell must notify the department at least two weeks before its intent to start producing ice cream for sale so health officials can conduct a full assessment of the company’s progress and test results; the company must conduct trial production runs of ice cream that will be tested separately by DSHS; the products must consistently test negative before they can be distributed to the public; and a trial run with negative test results must occur for each production line before the line can begin making ice cream for sale.

State health inspectors will regularly be at the site to test ice cream and other items, and for at least two years after resuming production, Blue Bell must report any presumptive positive test result for Listeria in a product or ingredient to DSHS within 24 hours.

State health officials also are reviewing deep cleaning procedures, ongoing sanitation processes, and training activities at the Brenham plant. Blue Bell has retained an independent expert to oversee sanitation efforts and, as part of the agreement, will conduct root cause analyses to try to determine the sources of contamination.

Blue Bell Creameries CEO and President Paul Kruse announced May 15 that, because of extended timeline required to ensure the highest quality and safety of Blue Bell’s products when the company resumes production, and because supply and distribution will be limited for some time to come, the company will have to reduce the size of its workforce and take other cost-cutting measures, including furloughs and salary reductions. "The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell's CEO and president," Kruse said. "At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally."

The company's announcement said "cleaning and improving Blue Bell's four production plants is going to take longer than the company initially anticipated, especially at the main plant in Brenham where major repairs and equipment replacements are expected. There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time."

The cutbacks will affect three groups: Employees essential to ongoing operations, cleaning, and repair efforts will continue to work but have their pay reduced; another group of employees will be placed on partially paid furlough, being paid "a substantial portion of their current pay, with the expectation that they will return to work as production resumes"; and a third group of employees will be laid off. Approximately 1,400 employees will be furloughed and approximately 750 full-time and 700 part-time employees – 37 percent of the total Blue Bell workforce of 3,900 – will be laid off, Kruse said.

The company has also suspended operations and laid off employees at distribution centers in Phoenix (two branches) and Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City and Wichita, Kansas; Louisville; Albuquerque; Las Vegas; Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; and, Richmond, Va.

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