News highlights, market trends, and original data analysis related to the U.S. retail food & beverage industry … by Jay Nargundkar
Ice cream lovers in America might soon be ready to declare DEFCON-1 status. The ongoing ice cream food safety scare hit particularly home for this blog’s Chicago-based author when his favorite parlor, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, shut, with the company announcing the temporary closure of all its shops and a recall of all its packaged dessert products due to a positive test for the dangerous bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
Nationally, the bigger story this week was the country’s third-largest ice cream manufacturer, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries (~10% share in 2014), pulling all of its products from store shelves over concerns of listeria contamination. Whereas no affected consumers have been identified from infected Jeni’s products, over the past month or so, three deaths and scores of illnesses have been traced back to Blue Bell products. Particularly worrisome is that the CDC has traced this listeria strain all the way back to early 2010; the bacteria can apparently survive for years on surfaces like drains or pipes in a factory.
Listeria, which can cause sepsis and meningitis, reportedly kills over 250 people in the U.S. annually. Around 1,600 people become “seriously ill” while others deal with “high fever, severe headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea”.
While Jeni’s and Blue Bell have dominated recent headlines, the first listeria ice cream recall actually occurred four months ago. In December 2014, a small regional gourmet manufacturer (like Jeni’s), Washington-based Snoqualmie, pulled its products from shelves after two customers were hospitalized. After a two-month layoff during which they tracked the source of the contamination and implemented new production procedures, Snoqualmie resumed operations.
For its part, Blue Bell says it hopes to be back in business in 2-3 weeks.