The Texas Department of State Health Services has completed an agreement with Blue Bell Creameries that levies an $850,000 fine for last year's Listeria outbreak.
However, the company only has to pay $175,000 immediately. The remainder will only be enforced if the company violates the terms of the agreement. Texas health officials said the fine was called for because Bluebell allowed adulterated product to enter the marketplace and cause illness.
When Bluebell issued the massive recall in March 2015, it required the massive cleaning of four production plants and the layoffs of a large number of employees. The company ultimately dismissed 37% of its workforce.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the contamination of Blue Bell products led to a multistate Listeria outbreak that claimed three lives and put 10 people in the hospital.
Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating contaminated food. People at high risk for listeriosis include pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.
Terms of the agreement
Under the agreement with Texas, Blue Bell must notify state health officials if any tests indicate a possibility of Listeria contamination in product, ingredients, food surfaces, machinery, and other equipment in its Brenham, Texas plant.
The company must also make sure its ice cream is completely free of pathogens before it can be sold to the public. It must also continue to give state health department inspectors complete access to its plants to take samples.
While the fine imposed against the company might appear small, it is something out of the ordinary. Bill Marler, a lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illness, told the Dallas Morning News that food companies usually don't pay fines.
"Any fine is very unusual. That is why any amount is significant," he told the newspaper.
Besides Texas, Blue Bell Creameries has production facilities in Oklahoma and Alabama.