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Ice cream recalled; CDC reports 3 Listeria-related deaths

All five patients were being treated at a hospital in Kansas when they ate the ice cream, and this occurred between January 2014 and January 2015, USA Today reports.

People didn’t realize the infection came from ice cream until four strains of Listeria monocytogenes were discovered in Blue Bell products in February by the South Carolina Health Department. The Texas Department of Health was notified and product samples were collected from the Brenham facility that found Listeria monocytogenes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contacted health departments in other states, USA TODAY reports.

Upon investigation, the Kansas Department of Health found that records for four of the five listeriosis patients showed that they were served Blue Bell ice cream products while at the hospital.

Blue Bell Creameries said that the affected ice cream products have been removed from the market and the production line where the products were made has been shut down.

Blue Bell ice cream products Scoops, Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwiches, and Great Divide Bars tested positive for L. monocytogenes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Although the company has removed these products from stores the tainted ice cream products may still be in the freezers of consumers, institutions, and retailers, NBC12 reports.

So how does ice cream get tainted in the first place?

The CDC reports that about 1,600 Americans are sickened by this bacterium each year. It’s the third leading cause of food poisoning-related death, reports. It was also in the news in January after contaminated caramel apples from California sickened 35 people in 12 states, killing seven.

Listeria is quite happy to grow in refrigerator temperatures, even if they dip down as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and if foods that are ready-to-eat are kept in the refrigerator for just a bit too long, the better the chance for the bacteria to grow.

“It’s why it’s a problem for cooler foods like ice cream and cheese,” Bill Marler, a Washington-based food safety lawyer told Time.

Three of the strains of this bacteria came from one single Blue Bell production line, the FDA says, but the agency hasn’t disclosed a precise point of contact. Blue Bell says one of its machines created the problem.

“Likely what happened is the piece of machinery was contaminated,” Marler said. “The liquid form of the ice cream goes through the machine when it’s not yet frozen, but around 40 degrees, and it’s a great place for [listeria] to grow.”

While listeria is a fairly rare illness, this adaptable bacteria can live in water, some animals, and food made with raw milk (deli meats and dairy products, for instance). It can live in the cold quite fine, but fortunately it can be killed by cooking or pasteurization, The Washington Post reports.

Symptoms may appear anywhere from within a few days to a few weeks and include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes diarrhea. Older adults, pregnant women, and newborns are vulnerable to becoming sick after listeria exposure.

An estimated 260 people die yearly from listeria, the CDC reports.

This isn’t the first time tainted ice cream has sickened people in the U.S. Last December, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream voluntarily recalled several batches of ice cream, gelato, custard, and sorbet products that tested positive for listeria. Two people were sickened, Time reports. In 1994, 200,000 people became ill after eating Schwan’s ice cream which was transported by a distribution truck that had previously carried non-pasteurized liquid eggs contaminated by Salmonella.

Blue Bell reports that the problem has been contained, according to Slate.

“One of our machines produced a limited amount of frozen snacks with a potential listeria problem,” the company reported in a statement. “When this was detected all products produced by this machine were withdrawn. Our Blue Bell team members recovered all products in stores and storage.”

The company’s cup, pint, and half-gallon ice cream products aren’t affected by this outbreak.

Following is a list of products that the FDA has warned consumers not to eat.

• Great Divide Bar

• Chocolate Chip Country Cookie

• Sour Pop Green Apple Bar

• Cotton Candy Bar

• Scoops

• Vanilla stick slices

• Almond bars

• 6 pack Cotton Candy Bars

• 6 pack Sour Pop Green Apple Bars

• 12 pack No Sugar Added Mooo Bars

Nineteen listeriosis cases were reported in Texas in 2014, and two were reported in 2015. None of these cases have been linked to ice cream, but the investigation is ongoing, USA Today reports.

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