Blue Bell listeria fallout continues; lawsuit filed two years after outbreak
The deadly listeria contamination crisis that smeared Blue Bell’s reputation two years ago continues to haunt the iconic creamery as it works to rebuild capacity and market share.
Missouri City residents George and Sharon Pearson this week filed a lawsuit in Fort Bend County alleging that George ingested listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic strain of the bacteria, while eating Blue Bell ice cream in 2015. The couple is seeking at least $200,000 in damages to compensate for the health care expenses and anguish they said to have incurred.
According to the lawsuit, George “suddenly and without warning became severely ill” after eating the ice cream in early April. That month, Blue Bell recalled all of its products and shut down its production facilities result of contamination linked to 10 listeria cases, including three deaths.
The lawsuit argues that George’s illness was a “direct and proximate” result of Blue Bell’s negligence, as demonstrated by its failure to ensure the cleanliness of its facilities and the safety of its products prior to the recall.
Neither Blue Bell nor the couple’s attorney could be reached for comment Friday.
The lawsuit is the latest of several filed against Blue Bell in the wake of the recall.
Last spring, a federal judge in Louisiana dismissed a class-action lawsuit that sought refunds for customers throughout that state. The primary plaintiff, Steven Leon, argued Blue Bell hadn’t provided adequate notice to those eligible for reimbursement.
In September, a former Houston resident settled a federal lawsuit against the company for an undisclosed sum. The plaintiff, Phil Shockley, claimed he suffered brain damage after contracting listeriosis in 2013, but he couldn’t prove the illness stemmed from tainted Blue Bell ice cream.
After the 2015 recall, the company took extensive measures to clean up its facilities before resuming production. It slowly reintroduced its products to market that summer after implementing safety procedures that required all products to test clean before leaving the plant.
The incident cost the company considerable market share. Euromonitor, a market intelligence firm, expected Blue Bell to log $445 million in sales last year, just more than half its 2014 total.
The company faced a public relations challenge last fall when it recalled several flavors produced with listeria-tainted cookie dough produced by an outside supplier. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration later discovered that the manufacturer, Iowa-based Aspen Hills, had serious contamination problems throughout its facility.
Since then, the company has continued its recovery efforts. It reintroduced its products in Arizona and Colorado last month.