The modern industrial food production and distribution system means that food contamination that once would have been limited to a narrow, local area, now can affect towns and cities across the country.
In addition, with new DNA based testing capabilities, it is now possible to tie older outbreaks to particular strains of contamination, potentially allowing investigators and plaintiffs to discover the full scope of illnesses or deaths caused by food contamination by common bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria.
The recent recall by Blue Bell of all of their ice cream products from all stores may seem severe, but given their inability to stop reports of wider and wider contamination, they may have had no choice. Some wonder if they waited too long to make the decision.
Listeria was originally found in some products that were wrapped by a machine that was apparently contaminated in March. Those items were recalled, but new reports of additional listeria-contaminated products force the recall to widen to other products.
The Listeria bacteria is dangerous bacteria for an ice cream manufacturer to deal with, as it thrives in cool, refrigerated, damp locations, which describes virtually everything involved in the production of ice cream.
The bacteria often live in the soil and can survive in water or damp areas of refrigerated facilities. Another ice cream maker found their facility had been contaminated by pallets carrying milk into the production areas.
Blue Bell will face additional challenges as the scope of the investigation broadens and the number of deaths and illness linked to the outbreak could grow.
They now will have to deal with the damaging publicity from the recall of all of their products and lawsuits that could arise from those injured by listeria. Repairing damage to the brand and restoring consumer confidence may be difficult and slow after such a massive recall.
Nytimes.com, “For Blue Bell, a Drastic Move to Recall Ice Cream as Listeria Findings Rose,” Rachel Abrams and Hiroko Tabuchi, April 21, 2015