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article imageUnusual ice cream recalls raise questions over food safety

By Karen Graham     Apr 24, 2015 in Food
Major recalls from two popular ice cream companies have raised a number of important questions about how Listeria bacteria could have gotten into the manufacturing plants, and if the two could be related.
So is the ice cream in this country safe to eat? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is, even though two major ice cream makers have initiated recalls because Listeria was found in some of their frozen products.
The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are saying there is no reason to think there is a link between the deaths associated with the contaminated Blue Bell creameries products and the discovery of Listeria in a sample of the Ohio-based Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams product.
"Based upon what we know now, there is no connection between these two ice cream companies nor any reason to suspect that ice cream as a whole poses any special food-borne disease risk," said CDC's Dr. Robert Tauxe.
"At this time, the FDA does not believe that the finding of listeria in one sample of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is related to the outbreak and recall associated with Blue Bell Ice Cream," said Food and Drug Administration spokesman Jeff Ventura. "We are continuing to investigate both situations and will provide updated information to consumers as we learn more."
The recalls are a wake-up call for the industry
What is so unusual about these recalls? Listeria monocytogenes is a very hardy bacteria, and it can live in cool temperatures. But finding the bacteria in a frozen ice cream product has scientists concerned because the bacteria can't grow in freezing conditions. This means the bacteria was somehow introduced into the product. Dr. Tauxe said the discovery is a "wake-up call" for the ice cream industry.
Listeria has been found most commonly in raw and pasteurized milk, processed meats, cantaloupes, unpasteurized and soft cheeses. It is also found in raw and cooked sausage as well as in poultry and raw and smoked fish. Because it can grow at temperatures near the freezing point, it is quite dangerous, even in refrigerated foods.
Listeria is found in soil and water and can be tracked into a manufacturing site on the shoes of employees, or be spread by employees not using proper sanitation procedures. Regardless of how it is introduced, it is very hard to get rid of because it can grow in cool temperatures.
What is being done at Blue Bell and Jeni's?
On Thursday, Blue Bell Creameries closed production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama for some very intensive cleaning. They anticipate being closed one to two weeks, a company spokesperson said. They did produce some product this week, but it is being used for testing and won't be sold to the public.
John Lowe, Jeni's CEO, said in a statement on the company's website the company is working with their suppliers to find out if the pathogen was introduced by one of the ingredients used in production. "We will not reopen the kitchen until we can ensure the safety of our customers," Lowe said.
"Despite these recalls, it is important to understand that ice cream in the United States is generally safe," said the FDA's Jeff Ventura. "These recalls are an example of companies taking appropriate action by getting potentially unsafe foods off the market."
Sandra Eskin, the director of food safety for the Pew Charitable Trusts, says she thinks the nation's ice cream is "generally safe." But she says the outbreak may prove we need more testing at the manufacturing level. It will be interesting to see what the FDA does this year with the broad and sweeping new food safety law that President Obama signed in 2011. The FDA is still working to put all its measures in place.
More about Ice cream, Listeria monocytogenes, two recalls, Blue bell, Jeni's
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