retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal has a story about Blue Bell Creameries, noting that as the company "prepares to resume production of its ice cream after a sweeping recall, its mistakes are fueling broader rethinking of how to keep ice cream and other foods free of deadly bacteria.

"Federal records show that Blue Bell failed to follow practices recommended by government and industry groups that might have prevented listeria contamination of ice cream at all three of its main plants. At the same time, some food-safety professionals say the crisis is indicative of insufficient attention, beyond Blue Bell, of the risks of listeria."

The story goes on to report that "some food-safety professionals say Blue Bell’s problems reflect broader complacency in the ice-cream industry about listeria. Many people in the food industry believed the frozen dessert was at lower risk of being associated with infections from listeria than some other packaged foods, in part because the bacteria doesn’t grow when food is frozen."

The Journal notes that "three small ice-cream makers recently have recalled products because of listeria contamination, including Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which has had to shut production twice. Since its second bout with listeria in June, Jeni’s has been searching its plant for the source of contamination while another facility makes its ice cream.

"Blue Bell’s struggle with listeria also has spurred other rivals to evaluate their food-safety programs. The board of directors at another U.S. ice cream company commissioned a full briefing from its management after the Blue Bell problems surfaced to confirm its own practices were sufficient, a person familiar with the matter said."

To be clear, "Blue Bell won’t resume distribution from any of its facilities until the company, the FDA and state health officials are satisfied its products are safe, according to a company spokesman."
KC's View:
The thing that bugs me about the Blue Bell situation is that, according to people I spoken with who are in a position to know, even as the first reports were coming back to Blue Bell that it had a problem, the company did not do what needed to be done to address those issues ... and those folks said they were not surprised by how badly things spun out of control.

As badly as it seems to have done on the food safety front, in a lot of ways it was equally bad on the communications front ... it ignored the fact that these days, you have to be fast and you have to be transparent, or you look like you are hiding something.

I think I've suggested here that Blue Bell would have a hard time coming back, but a number of folks - especially people more familiar with how Texans think about such things than I am - disagreed. it looks like I was wrong and they were right.

It will, however, be interesting to see how it does in other markets where people have a little less dedication to the brand.

Beyond that ... we've spoken about it often here on MNB ... the industry cannot afford to be complacent at all when it comes to food safety, especially with the new FSMA regulations about to be unveiled.