Blue Bell resumes selling ice cream after listeria recall

Gov. Abbott and Blue Bell

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — Blue Bell ice cream is back.

Blue Bell Creameries resumed selling its products at some locations Monday, four months after the Texas-based retailer halted sales due to listeria contamination at some plants prompted health concerns that drew the regulatory scrutiny of federal and state officials.

Blue Bell ice cream is available again at stores in the Houston and Austin areas, including in the company’s hometown of Brenham, plus in parts of Alabama. The company says Blue Bell will be available in North Texas in the second phase of the rollout, but no timetable has been released. 

Some retailers limited purchases as Blue Bell brought out flavors including homemade vanilla, Dutch chocolate, cookies ‘n cream and a side-by-side blend of chocolate and vanilla.

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A Blue Bell delivery truck rolled up Monday to the Texas Capitol in Austin, with complimentary half-gallons for Gov. Greg Abbott, who shared the ice cream with his staff, said Cait Meisenheimer, an Abbott aide.

A grocery store in the Houston area held a Blue Bell ice cream-eating contest Monday.

The company had voluntarily recalled its products in April after they were linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. Listeria bacteria can cause serious illness, especially in older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

The company, according to its website, collected approximately 8 million gallons of ice cream and ice cream products.

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Production plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama underwent an extensive cleaning and decontamination, under the regulatory oversight of health officials. Hundreds of Blue Bell workers were laid off.

The Blue Bell plant in Sylacauga, Alabama, began producing ice cream in July. The company announced plans on Aug. 17 to resume distribution to some markets.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Commerce were in Brenham on Monday to announce a nearly $1.4 million grant to build a workforce and technical training center. The money goes to the Brenham Economic Development Foundation. Federal authorities cited Blue Bell issues and recent downturns in the oil and gas industries.

Texas billionaire Sid Bass became an investor in Blue Bell Creameries after the privately held company was unable to raise enough capital from existing shareholders, according to CEO and President Paul Kruse.

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“Texans can rejoice today as Blue Bell ice cream makes its long-awaited comeback in freezer aisles across the state,” said Gov. Abbott. “Generations of families have enjoyed Blue Bell as a traditional Texas treat, and their production facilities have played an integral economic role in local communities across the Lone Star State. On behalf of all Texans, I want to welcome Blue Bell back and wish them luck as they continue to ramp up production.”