Blue Bell likes to call itself “The Little Creamery,” but its recent response to a listeria outbreak shows it’s really a big corporation. The company continues to receive unprecedented levels of public support, despite a listeria outbreak that killed three people, sickened others.
The dessert maker has recalled of all its products, shutdown of its plants and laid off or furloughed hundreds of employees. Make no mistake: Blue Bell’s lived up to its claim of making “the best ice cream in the country.” But as I write in today’s Houston Chronicle, it’s handling of the crisis and its knowledge that it had a listeria problem years ago that it didn’t reveal raises questions of whether it deserves such unquestioning support.
A half-gallon of Blue Bell Natural Bean Vanilla sits in my freezer, untouched. I could have returned it for a refund or sold it on Craigslist (going rate: $5). Yet I keep it, like a spurned lover holding onto a discarded ring, hoping for the day when the romance is rekindled.
I was born in dairy country and grew up eating fresh-from-the-farm ice cream. Then my family moved to College Station, a mere 40 miles from Brenham, and discovered Blue Bell. My mother, a discerning ice cream aficionado, quickly declared that the “The Little Creamery” made the best she’d ever eaten.
Like so many others, I wanted to believe that Blue Bell’s recent listeria contamination and eventual recall was simply a case of misfortune that would be quickly remedied.
Sadly, a recently revealed U.S. Food and Drug Administration report found that Blue Bell knew of listeria in at least one of its plants two years ago, yet continued selling us its products. Three people have since died and seven others in four states, including Texas, have been sickened.