Soft-serve a bitch to clean: Listeria linked to ice cream sickens 3rd victim — a year later

It was our most popular blog post for years.

bumpday_baskinrobbinsIn May, 2008, Baskin Robbins decided to offer free soft serve ice cream to expectant mothers on May 21, 2008, in California, Chicago, New York, Nashville, and El Paso, Texas. It’s apparently the beginning of a national roll-out of soft serve ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

I have no idea why they targeted expectant moms, or why they recruited a pregnant D- celebrity like Tori Spelling as spokesthingy.

Problem is, soft serve ice cream is on the Australian list of foods pregnant women should avoid. Sanitation with the equipment appears to be an on-going problem.

Today, JoNel Aleccia of The Seattle Times writes that a year after a giant recall of Snoqualmie ice cream tied to Listeria, a third illness has been blamed on the bug after it apparently lingered in a machine used to make milkshakes for hospital patients.

A woman in her 40s being treated at the University of Washington Medical Center was diagnosed in November with listeria. When experts did tests, to their surprise, they found the bacteria matched the genetic fingerprint of the germ that sickened two other UWMC patients in 2014.

The common factor? All three drank milkshakes made with ice cream from the same UWMC machine, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health — Seattle & King County.

“We’re assuming it’s linked to Snoqualmie ice cream from last year that persisted in the machine,” Duchin said. “The most likely explanation is it persisted in some nook or cranny somewhere where it escaped the cleaning process.”

The 2014 illnesses were traced to an ice-cream mix used by Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream and sparked a voluntary recall of a year’s worth of ice cream, gelato and other products. The plant underwent extensive cleaning before reopening.

However, UWMC isn’t using Snoqualmie mix in their ice cream now. Instead, they use another commercial brand.

That means the listeria from the Snoqualmie mix likely remained inside the machine for more than a year, he said. UWMC cleaned and sanitized the equipment twice weekly, which is less often than recommended by manufacturers, health officials noted in a blog post.

Pregnant women, the elderly and others are urged to avoid foods such as lunchmeat and soft cheeses because of the risk of listeria. Soft-serve ice cream isn’t usually included on the list in the U.S., though officials in Australia and elsewhere warn pregnant women against consuming the treat.

The unusual outbreak at UWMC may underscore the need for more research into a link between listeria and the ice-cream machines, Duchin said.

In 2008, a reader asked if I would serve my then pregnant wife soft-serve ice cream.