Blue Bell hit with $19 million fine for listeria outbreak

Texas-based ice cream company admits guilt, former president also criminally charged

Blue Bell Creameries will pay a total of $19.35 million in fine, forfeiture, and civil settlement payments after shipping out ice cream linked to a listeria outbreak in 2015.

Blue Bell agreed to plead guilty Friday to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products. The monetary punishment is the second largest-ever amount paid in resolution of a food-safety matter. The case was handled in a federal court in Austin.

FDA investigates listeria strains found in Blue Bell products

In 2015, The Food and Drug Administration began investigating the ice cream company after a listeria outbreak was reported.

Investigators found at least seven rare strains of listeria present in samples Blue Bell’s single-serving ice cream products.

Listeria is a harmful pathogen that can lead to serious illness or death in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

Blue Bell was cited for failing to issue any formal notification to customers regarding the positive listeria tests, according to the news release.

The company’s former president, Paul Kruse, was also criminally charged in connection with the outbreak.

Blue Bell recall: What is listeria?

Prosecutors alleged Kruse orchestrated a scheme to deceive customers after he learned that products from the company’s Texas factory tested positive for the virus.

Kruse is also accused of directing other Blue Bell employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without notifying retailers or consumers about the real reason for the withdrawal. Prosecutors say the former president told employees to lie to customers who called about the products, directing them to say the products were pulled for an “unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine.”