Blue Bell’s Ex.-CEO charged in conspiracy to cover up Listeria outbreak

Christopher Mele of the New York Times writes the former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries was charged with conspiracy in connection with his repeated efforts to cover up what became a deadly outbreak of listeria in some of the company’s products in 2015.

In addition, the company pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products and agreed to pay a total of $19.4 million in fines, forfeitures and civil payments — the second-largest amount ever paid to resolve a food safety case, officials said. (Chipotle Mexican Grill last month agreed to pay a $25 million fine related to charges stemming from more than 1,100 cases of foodborne illnesses.)

Prosecutors charged that Blue Bell, which is based in Brenham, Texas, about 75 miles northwest of Houston, distributed ice cream products that were manufactured under unsanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Three deaths and 10 hospitalizations across four states were tied to the 2015 outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The former chief executive, Paul Kruse, who was also Blue Bell’s president, directed a scheme to cover up the discovery that some products tested positive for listeria, according to court papers. He directed a company employee to stop a testing program for listeria even after two samples sent to a lab came back positive, court records said.

Further, Mr. Kruse did not order the recall of the affected products despite Blue Bell filing a report to federal regulators that it was recalling them “as quickly as possible,” court papers said.

For a period of more than two months in 2015, Mr. Kruse learned from state and federal officials as well as third-party labs that test samples of at least seven company ice cream products made at two different plants had tested positive for listeria, court papers said.

Yet, prosecutors contend, he repeatedly minimized, ignored or tried to cover up the problem products, which included Blue Bell Great Divide Bar and Chocolate Chip Country Cookie, despite concerns raised by company employees and customers, including a Kansas hospital and a Florida school.

For instance, he directed employees to tell customers that there had been an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine rather than that samples of the products had tested positive for listeria, officials said.

On Feb. 17, 2015, Mr. Kruse rejected sending a draft news release about two products that tested positive for listeria, the withdrawal of those products and a warning to consumers about the potential health consequences. Mr. Kruse instructed the company executive who brought him the proposed release that it was unnecessary, court papers said.

Chris Flood, a lawyer for Mr. Kruse, said on Friday that his client was innocent of the charges.

‘No side effects or anything’ PR Chipotle doesn’t need and needs to stop ignoring

The Intertubes are full of conspiracy theories.

Harmless Harvest is the latest to go after me – because asking questions about a supposedly all-natural process that has prompted FDA concerns in terms of risk reduction is bullshit. Or the claims are. step right up, it’s all natural.

So is smallpox.

Chipotle has its own outliers.

There’s a story circulating that Chipotle’s E. coli O26 outbreak was planted by agribusiness upset that Chipotle wanted to go GMO-free;

John Geary of News Leader picks up on this theme, saying that the Bloomberg Business 4,000-word story about Chipotle and their current problems was little more than a desperate attempt at a smear campaign, likely driven by large corporate interests.

Geary says that an honest evaluation of Chipotle and the food poisoning concludes the current situation is hyped up and blown completely out of proportion. Chipotle sounds good to me.

Good luck with your diarrhea burrito.

And then the head of Boston’s restaurant inspection program, Commissioner William Christopher ate lunch with his chief of staff, Indira Alvarez, at the Cleveland Circle Chipotle location that got more than 100 people sick with norovirus earlier this month.

“They did a good job cleaning the place, and I want to let people know that I have confidence to go there and eat,” Christopher told the Boston Globe. “I just felt it was the right thing to do.”

“The food was wonderful,” he said. “There were no side effects or anything.”

Inspectors found that an employee had worked while sick and that meat was not heated adequately.


Rare burgers are not OK, whatever food porn says

Butcher and Meat Hook co-owner Tom Mylan tells Grub Street New York when you move to outlaw hamburgers because of E. coli, “it’s a pretty clear sign that your food system is broken and you really need to start doing some heavier lifting rather than just pass some asinine piece of legislation that penalizes restaurants and eaters.

“If there’s E. coli present in your hamburgers, you can legislate to cook that burger to death, and you’re moving to make food more mediocre in a way. But anything that’s handled by the same person who touched the meat before it went on the grill to become incinerated, anything else they come into contact with still stands the chance of becoming contaminated.

“… E. coli is everywhere. The real problem with it now is that producers feed their cattle things they shouldn’t eat, like corn, for example, that promotes excessive E. coli production. But the other thing that has implications for the future of humanity, really, is that these farm animals are getting subtherapeutic antibiotics, and that’s building up strains of antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria.”

Such fantasies are endemic in the food porn industry, where people pay more for less. Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, like the O157:H7 strain, occur naturally in ruminants, and there are hundreds of outbreaks to document this.

Any chef or self-proclaimed food activist that relies on the 1998 Cornell study that linked corn consumption in cattle to E. coli production to satiate their own conspiracy theories ain’t serving food to me or my kids.