Ex Blue Bell Workers Detail Gross Plant Conditions

Dripping vents, slimy cardboard sleeves, and more
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 14, 2015 4:18 PM CDT
Updated Sep 14, 2015 5:00 PM CDT
Ex Blue Bell Workers Detail Gross Plant Conditions
In this April 21, 2015 file photo, shelves sit empty of Blue Bell ice cream at a grocery store in Dallas.   (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

The Houston Chronicle spoke to 14 ex-employees at Blue Bell's flagship plant in Texas, and they tell truly disturbing stories of conditions at the plant where listeria-contaminated ice cream treats were produced. Some of the details:

  • Even after one machine had been cleaned, what the Chronicle calls a "mealy goo" of ice cream add-ins like strawberries and nuts would sometimes flow into the tank—even if the machine was supposed to be producing plain vanilla ice cream at the time. "If you are getting chunks of inclusions recirculating after the system has been 'cleaned,' you have failed," says the worker who ran the machine. He, and the others interviewed, raised concerns with Blue Bell that went ignored.

  • Dirty air vents dripped condensation onto finished ice cream products day after day. "Every time we had an inspection coming, they would say 'blow on the vent, dry it off,'" one worker says of his supervisors. "Once the inspection came, everything then went back to normal." Another worker says one wet vent dripped at least once a minute—"it was all day, every day"—and employees who complained were simply told to wipe it off periodically.
  • Tubs of ice cream were placed into cardboard sleeves for delivery into stores; the sleeves got dirty, but were often re-used "even if slimed with ice cream or soaked in condensation," as the Chronicle puts it.
  • One machine ran practically around the clock, meaning there was little time to actually clean it. After the listeria outbreak, the machine was found to be so dirty, it was shut down permanently.
  • There wasn't enough hot water to go around, workers say ("If it ran out, it ran out"); one says that water that was supposed to be 150 to 165 degrees was sometimes cool enough for him to stick his hand in. He notes that he saw parts with butterfat still on them going back onto the machines because the water wasn't hot enough to remove the butterfat.
And then there were the safety issues—several workers lost parts of fingers. Click for the full article. (More blue bell stories.)

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