On May 1, 2020, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a news release announcing a settlement with ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries regarding listeria contamination of its products in 2015. The news release also announced the filing of criminal charges against the former Blue Bell CEO. According to DOJ‘s news release, Blue Bell pleaded guilty to two criminal counts and agreed to pay over $19 million in fines, restitution, and other payments.
Blue Bell Downplayed the Issue
The news release indicates Blue Bell ordered its drivers to remove suspect products but did not issue a recall or formal alert for weeks after learning of listeria contamination. Some of the products suspected of contamination remained in schools and hospitals, as well as in stores. Five persons in a Kansas hospital may have become ill from Blue Bell ice cream, according to the news release.
Former CEO Indicted
The news release also said DOJ has filed a criminal case against Blue Bell’s former CEO, alleging one felony count for conspiracy to commit fraud and seven counts of wire fraud. The criminal charges assert the former CEO misled the public regarding the seriousness of the situation by: ordering employees not to tell customers the real reason for removing product; ordering product removal during regularly schedule deliveries, instead of as quickly as possible; refusing to issue a press release stating Blue Bell products tested positive for listeria; and creating a statement to give to customers saying the removals were due to “an issue discovered with one of our manufacturing machines” rather than the potential presence of listeria.