5 Kansans ill from listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Creamer - KCTV5

5 Kansans ill from listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Creamery, 3 deaths reported

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Five people in Kansas have become ill due to an outbreak of listeria linked to ice cream consumed from Blue Bell Creameries and three of them have died.

The five patients were all infected with one of four rare strains of listeria monocytogenes while being treated at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita, KS.

“One of the most vulnerable populations is really adults who have weakened immune systems," said Sara Belfry with the Kansas Department of Health.

Belfry said Saturday that listeriosis didn't cause the deaths, but may have been a contributing factor.

The patients, all adults, became ill with listeriosis after being hospitalized for unrelated causes. They became ill between January 2014 and January 2015 after a majority were known to have consumed Blue Bell Creameries ice cream at the hospital. Specifically, four people ate milkshakes made with a single-serving ice cream product called "Scoops." Via Christi was not initially aware of the listeriosis contamination. They released a statement that said, in part:

“Via Christi was not aware of any listeria contamination in the Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products and immediately removed all Blue Bell Creameries products from all Via Christi locations once the potential contamination was discovered."

The outbreak was recently discovered after two patients were identified with the same strain of listeriosis. Further investigation identified three other patients with listeriosis who had been hospitalized for unrelated causes before the onset of listeriosis.

“The listeria infections are usually severe. They cause blood stream infections and similar infections of the brain. People can have sepsis which is like a severe form of blood stream infection,” said CDC Medical Epidemiologist Brandan Jackson.

Three of the strains, which are highly similar, were also found in products manufactured at the Blue Bell Creameries production facility in Brenham, TX. The FDA was notified that the three strains and four other rare strains of listeria monocytogenes were found in samples of Blue Bell Creameries single serving Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich and the Great Divide Bar ice cream products collected by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control during routine product sampling at a South Carolina distribution center Feb. 12.

Paul Kruse, Blue Bell's CEO, said they've been working with the FDA and state health departments for the last month or so as they tried to track down the cause of the outbreak.

"This is unfortunate. This is the first time we've ever had this problem. Certainly we feel bad. We apologize. We can do better than that. We always have. This doesn't involve any of our packaged ice cream it's a bunch of primarily individual bulk snacks," he said.

Friday the FDA warned consumers about the potential contamination in Blue Bell Creameries' products. Kansas health officials are warning consumers who have purchased the following Blue Bell Creameries novelty items and have not consumed the items to discard them:

  • Chocolate Chip Country Cookie - SKU #196
  • Great Divide Bar - SKU #108
  • Sour Pop Green Apple Bar - SKU #221
  • Cotton Candy Bar - SKU #216
  • Scoops - SKU #117
  • Vanilla Stick Slices - SKU #964
  • Almond Bar - SKU #156
  • 12 pack No Sugar Added Mooo Bars (regular Mooo Bars are not included) - SKU # 343
  • 6 pack Cotton Candy Bars - SKU #245
  • 6 pack Sour Pop Green Apple Bars - SKU #249

Kruse said a total of 10 items were all produced on one production line in Texas and employees shut down the machine at the center of the investigation a month or two ago.

Potentially contaminated items were pulled from retail locations by Blue Bell Creameries and are no longer available for purchase. They were replaced with safe products. Kruse said once they discovered the outbreak, they did not produce anymore of the recalled products. At this time, no other products from Blue Bell Creameries have been linked to this outbreak.

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes.

The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. People can also experience vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms begin from three to 70 days after consuming the bacteria. In 2014, five cases of listeriosis were reported in Kansas.

An infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital said outbreaks like this don't happen often.

"Listeria infection is fairly rare, though it does account for around 20 percent of food-borne illness deaths in the United States," said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, MD.

Anyone can contract listeria, but those who have to be especially careful are older adults, pregnant women, newborns and anyone with a weakened immune system.

The University of Kansas Hospital said someone who ingests the tainted ice cream may get sick anywhere from day one to day 70 and over the counter medicine will not help.

Listeria is often associated with hot dogs and lunch meat, but more recent cases include cantaloupe and caramel apples.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to investigate the outbreak.

Anyone who believes they may have become ill with listeriosis should contact their healthcare provider.

For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated ice cream, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas. They should wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; and finally dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.

The FDA encourages consumers with questions to contact them by calling 1-888-SAFEFOOD during normal business hours or going to www.fda.gov.

Click here for CDC recommendations on preventing listeriosis. 

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