Blue Bell, the South’s beloved ice cream maker, is making ice cream again – and that’s good. But you can’t buy any – and that’s bad.
The company confirmed this week that one of its smaller factories had reopened, the first time Blue Bell has made ice cream since it shut down production in April. It was forced to throw out 8 million gallons after listeria-tainted ice cream sickened people in four states, the first recall in its 108-year history.
Blue Bell is only making a few flavors at the Alabama plant (it isn’t saying which), and instead of going on shelves now, the company is building up its inventory, spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf said.
As for when it will return to grocery stores, Van Dorf said that hasn’t been decided either.
Still, it’s a big deal for a company with a loyal fan base that has grown from its roots in tiny Brenham, Texas, to one of the biggest ice cream makers in the nation. Last year, it was the third-largest ice cream manufacturer in the U.S., selling 6.4 percent of America’s ice cream.
The news of the reopening was well-received by fans on Twitter, who have at times seemed to be describing a long-lost lover, not a tub of ice cream. This time, they reacted with plenty of caps-lock, exclamation points and a mix of crying, prayer-hands and heart emojis.
Blue Bell says it has taken a number of steps to avoid another outbreak, like taking apart machines to sanitize them, cleaning air conditioning systems and retraining employees.
The company has made “good progress” with its other factories, including its largest, which is near its Texas headquarters, Van Dorf said, but it hasn’t decided when they will reopen.
Ice cream made in the Sylacauga, Alabama, factory didn’t test positive for listeria during the outbreak, and health inspectors haven’t come across problems since, said Jim McVay, director of health promotion and chronic disease at the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The facility had closed voluntarily, and Alabama officials are placing “no restrictions whatsoever” on production, McVay said. Still, he said, inspectors will be visiting weekly, instead of just a few times a year.
“Everything has come back as you would anticipate,” McVay said. “As far as we’re concerned, they are another manufacturer.”