A multi-state outbreak of Listeria that hospitalized 10 and was linked to the deaths of three people in Kansas led Texas-based Blue Bell Creamery to voluntarily recall all of its products and halt its operations. Now, new questions are being raised after revelations that the company began “withdrawing” its products without posting public notices a month before the product recall was formally issued … and before “any illness had been linked to the tainted ice cream.”
What did the company know and when? The situation raises larger issues about the nation’s complex (and some would say ineffective) food safety mechanisms.
A product withdrawal differs from a product recall. “A withdrawal, which generally is used for minor problems, requires no broad notice to the public.”
About a month before Blue Bell Creamery announced a product recall, “company workers began quietly reclaiming products from retailers and institutional customers such as hospitals.” The Texas Health Department “called the withdrawal acceptable.” But food safety experts wonder.
“With something like this, I don’t understand how they got away with doing a withdrawal,” said Cliff Coles, president of California Microbiological Consulting Inc. “Withdrawal is not nearly as strong of language as a recall. If you knew that you had listeria, why wasn’t it a recall?
Blue Bell is declining comment, “citing pending litigation,” but says it responded to concerns. All of Blue Bell’s plants remain closed and the company has not announced when it will reopen. Stay tuned.