What was already a tough road leading to Blue Bell getting its products back on store shelves just got a lot tougher.
Under a voluntary agreement entered into by the creamery and the states of Texas and Oklahoma, Blue Bell must produce trial ice cream before returning to stores, submit to increased reporting requirements with regard to listeria in its ice cream and keep an in-house microbiology or sanitation expert on its staff at all times. For at least a year, Blue Bell must also test each batch of ice cream for potential pathogens before it sends it into the market.
"We are committed to meeting the high standards and expectations of our customers and our regulatory agencies," Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse said in announcing the agreement Thursday. "State and federal regulatory agencies play an important role in food safety, and we hope that it will be reassuring to our customers that we are working cooperatively with the states of Texas and Oklahoma in taking the necessary steps to bring Blue Bell Ice Cream back to the market."
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As to when that market return might be, it's impossible to know, even for Blue Bell. The Texas Department of State Health Services says that each of the companies production lines must produce listeria free ice cream before any can be sold. Considering Blue Bell has been traced back to listeria cases as far back as 2010, that might not be too easy.