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article imageU.S. dept. of Justice opens investigation of Blue Bell Creameries

By Karen Graham     Dec 30, 2015 in Food
The U.S. Department of justice (DOJ) has opened an investigation into Blue Bell Creameries, CBS News reported Tuesday evening. Attorneys from the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch will be in charge of the probe.
The investigation is led by Patrick Hearn, the USAA who prosecuted the executives of the Peanut Corporation of America earlier this year, according to CBS News.
Digital Journal has been closely following the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that started in March 2015, claiming the lives of three people after they ate Blue Bell Creamery's ice cream. By April, an additional 10 cases of Listeriosis were discovered and the company was forced to shut down all three of its production plants and recall all of its ice cream products.
It was only recently that the company returned to the market, and only on a staged basis. On the same day the DOJ announced its investigation into Blue Bell, the company announced it was about to enter the fifth phase of its market re-entry plan on Jan. 18. Ice cream will be available in stores in middle and eastern Tennessee, the northern sections of Alabama and Georgia and parts of Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to The Fort Bend herald.
What the DOJ is investigating
Using the Freedom of Information Act, in October, CBS News acquired the finished FDA inspection reports issued in early May on the unsanitary conditions at Blue Bell's production facilities. Even though the FDA said earlier reports did not show evidence of Listeria contamination, the agency did note there were numerous violations of food safety protocols.
What CBS found in the reports was enough that it should have led to the subsequent investigation into the company at that time. Investigations by the FDA found Blue Bell’s Listeria contamination was reported to company officials as early as 2013 along with other in-plant sanitation problems, including water getting into production facilities.
The DOJ is faced with the challenge of determining when and what Blue Bell executives actually knew about the bad inspection reports, and why they apparently chose to ignore them. Blue Bell Creamery has not responded to reports of the criminal inquiry.
In the DOJ investigation into the Peanut Corporation of America, Stewart Parnell, PCA’s executive officer, sent emails with orders to “just ship em” when he knew peanut products were contaminated with Salmonella. Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison, and his peanut broker brother was sentenced to 20 years.
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