Blue Bell ice cream had evidence of listeria bacteria in its Oklahoma manufacturing plant as far back as March 2013, according to a government investigation released Thursday. The company, however, continued to ship ice cream produced in that plant after what the Food and Drug Administration says was inadequate cleaning.
Three listeria deaths in Kansas are now linked to the ice cream. The company recalled all of its products last month, following several smaller recalls.
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The FDA released its investigations into Blue Bell's plants in Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama after a Freedom of Information request by The Associated Press. The most extensive violations were found in Oklahoma, where the FDA released 16 separate positive tests for listeria on equipment and in ice cream from March 2013 through January 2015.
Blue Bell did not immediately respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
Violations in the Oklahoma plant include dirty equipment, inadequate food storage, food being held at improper temperatures and employees not washing hands adequately.
There were also violations at the Texas and Alabama plants. In Alabama, FDA investigators observed at least two employees working with the food wearing soiled clothing. In Texas, investigators saw condensation dripping directly into food and onto surfaces that came directly in contact with food. In all of the plants, the FDA found dirty equipment and infrastructure that made cleaning difficult.