Blue Bell ordered to pay $17.25 million penalty in connection to listeria outbreak

OVERLAND PARK, KS - APRIL 21: Blue Bell Ice Cream is seen on shelves of an Overland Park grocery store prior to being removed on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

A federal court in Texas has ordered Blue Bell Creameries to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties connected to a listeria outbreak in 2015.

Blue Bell had to shut its flagship Brenham creamery for several months after an ice cream recall was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.

In May of this year, Blue Bell pleaded guilty in May 2020 to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products.

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The $17.25 million fine is the largest-ever criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case, according to the Department of Justice.

The DOJ accused Blue Bell of distributing ice cream products that were "manufactured under insanitary conditions and contaminated with listeria, in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act."

FDA inspections in March and April 2015 revealed sanitation issues at Blue Bell's Brenham and Broken Arrow facilities, including problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating factory conditions that could lead to insanitary water dripping into product mix during the manufacturing process.