Five years ago, a listeria outbreak at Blue Bell ice cream plants led to three deaths.
On Friday, Blue Bell posted on its website that an agreement has been reached with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
And the DOJ announced former Blue Bell president Paul Kruse has been indicted on seven criminal charges.
According to the DOJ’s two page news release, Blue Bell’s former president, Paul Kruse has been indicted on seven criminal charges in a scheme to cover up the incident. Blue Bell as a company agreed to plead guilty and pay fines related to two criminal misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream. Blue Bell also agreed to pay a fine to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products that were manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities. Blue Bell paying more than 19 million dollars constitutes the second largest ever amount paid in resolution of a food safety matter.
The department of justice news release cited a plea agreement where Blue Bell was notified in February 2015 that two ice cream products made in Brenham tested positive for listeria. While Blue Bell directed its delivery route drivers to remove remaining stock of the two products from store shelves, the company did not recall the products or issue any formal communication to inform customers about the potential listeria contamination.
According to the allegations filed against Kruse, Blue Bell’s former president is accused of orchestrating a scheme to deceive certain Blue Bell customers after he learned that products from the company’s Brenham plant tested positive for listeria. Kruse is charged with directing other Blue Bell employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers about the real reason for the withdrawal. Kruse is also accused of directing employees to tell customers who asked why products were removed that there had been an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine…instead of that samples of the products had tested positive for listeria.
Blue Bell’s statement includes an apology to everyone who was impacted, and repeating that since 2015 that their products go through independent tests to confirm it is safe before it goes to stores.