After a series of ice cream Listeria recalls and a deadly outbreak, the FDA decided to study the Listeria hazards associated with the commercial production of ice cream. The results of the study show that some makers still aren’t doing enough to control for the bacteria known to thrive in cool, damp environments.

What is Listeria?

Listeria bacteria are found in nature. Animals who eat or drink food contaminated with it can carry the bacteria without showing signs of illness. But humans who ingest food tainted with Listeria can become seriously ill or die. In fact, about 90 percent of people who develop a Listeria infection require hospitalization and about 20 percent of all cases are fatal.

Unlike other bacteria that cause foodborne illness such as E. coli and Salmonella, Listeria grows well in cold temperatures and can survive freezing.

Some people are at heightened risk for these infections. They include pregnant women, seniors, small children and people with compromised immune systems. Among pregnant women, who are 10 times more likely than the rest of the population to develop listeriosis, these infections can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infection of newborns.

Why did the FDA do this Study?

After the Blue Bell Listeria outbreak in 2014, there were a number of ice cream recalls.

Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak

In 2015, a Listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream sickened at least 10 people killing three of them.  The outbreak had been ongoing since 2010 before it was discovered. Several strains of Listeria were linked to the outbreak. Illnesses were confirmed in Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). Most of them were linked to a  strain found in ice cream that was made at the company’s plants in Brenham, Texas and Broken Arrow, Okla.  Blue Bell has a third location in Sylacauga, Ala.  All three locations were temporarily closed while the outbreak was investigated.

Blue Bell Listeria Lawsuit

Several of the illnesses were linked to contaminated single-serve ice cream products made for Blue Bell’s institutional clients including hospitals, nursing homes, schools and retirement communities.

David Philip Shockley, 32 worked as an administrator at a Houston retirement community On May 19, 2015, Pritzker Hageman Listeria lawyers filed a lawsuit on his behalf.

According to the complaint, Shockley suffered from ulcerative colitis and had been taking immunosuppressive medications since 2012. He also had a sweet tooth, and regularly snacked on Blue Bell ice cream products while he was at work.

In late October 2013, Shockley was stricken with a severe headache with nausea and light sensitivity. Later that day, his friends found him unconscious and unresponsive. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. He was admitted to the intensive care unit in acute respiratory failure and septic shock. He had a fever over 106˚ F. and was suffering seizures. Six days passed before he fully regained consciousness. When he did, he was unable to talk, swallow, see properly, walk or move much of his body. He was diagnosed with Listeria meningitis and suffered permanent neurological damage.

Listeria Ice Cream Recalls

After the Blue Bell outbreak, there were a series of ice cream recalls of Listeria. A recall by Aspen Hills includes ice cream sold under a variety of brand names including Blue Bell, Bue Bunny, Chocolate Shoppe, Publix and Nutrisystem. Other ice cream Listeria recalls since that time include:

    • April 2015 – Jeni’s Splendid ice cream
    • October 9, 2016 – Nestle Drumsticks
    • November 10, 2016 – Cedar Crest ice cream
    • November 11, 2006 –  Ashby’s Sterling ice cream
    • November 2016 – Dr Bob’s ice cream recall including the following brands AC Creamery, McConnell’s, Nancy’s, L.A. Creamery and Agave Dream.
    • December 21, 2016  – Foxy’s Thoughtful ice cream
    • April 5, 2017 – Wholesome Farms ice cream cups
    • January 12, 2018 – Fieldbrook Foods Corporation ice cream bars
    • October 1, 2018 – Reilly Craft Creamery of Detroit, Michigan


Listeria recalls that resulted from the study

FDA Ice Cream Listeria Investigation

After the Blue Bell outbreak and these recalls, the FDA decided to look more closely at how ice cream manufacturers guard against Listeria contamination. They looked at 89 facilities in 32 states. They found Listeria at 19 facilities and Salmonella at one. These finding prompted the agency to state commercial ice cream makers need to do more to control for the hazard of Listeria. The measures these manufacturers should be taking are outlined in FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.