MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Blue Bell Creameries said Wednesday that it plans test production runs at its Alabama plant as the company inches toward putting its ice cream back on grocery store shelves.
Blue Bell notified Alabama health officials and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of its plans for its plant in Sylacauga, Ala. The company shut down production and issued a national recall after the company's ice cream was linked to 10 listeria illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.
The Brenham, Texas-based company issued a statement saying the limited production runs will test the effectiveness of new procedures, facility enhancements and employee training. After the trial period, the company will begin building inventory to resume commercial sales.
"We have been working diligently to prepare our facilities to resume test production, and our focus throughout this process has been to ensure the public that when our products return to market, they are safe," Greg Bridges, vice-president of operations for Blue Bell, said in a statement.
"We are very excited about taking these important first steps as part of the process of getting high-quality Blue Bell products back to consumers," Bridges said.
The company said there is not a firm date for the test production runs to begin or for the return of Blue Bell ice cream to the marketplace.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness, particularly in older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. The contaminated products have been found at the company's Texas and Oklahoma plants.
Tests found listeria on a plant catwalk at the Alabama factory, but not in the ice cream samples produced there, Alabama State Health Officer Don Williamson said.
Blue Bell entered into a voluntary agreement with regulators on steps and changes to bring its ice cream back on the market.
Williamson said both state health officials and Blue Bell will test the ice cream produced during the trial production runs.