A cookie dough maker at the center of recalled ice creams made by Blue Bell and other brands for listeria contamination has said that its owners are stepping away from the company following a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning letter. The owners of Iowa-based Aspen Hills Inc., which supplies frozen cookie dough and other products, have decided to cease their involvement in the company and are looking to wind up their affairs through a sale “or other orderly disposition,” according to a spokesman for the company.
The process to step down has been started and the company ended production at the end of December, according to spokesman Jon Austin. He said in a statement:
Even so, we are committed to addressing any questions raised by the FDA so that the agency can be assured that our commitment to the safety and wholesomeness of our products will not waver even as we exit the market. To that end, we have detailed for the agency the many changes to our procedures and practices we put in place in response to its oversight; we appreciate the partnership and professionalism of its personnel throughout this process.
Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries Inc. recalled all of its products in April 2015 after 10 illnesses, including three deaths, were reported. The illness onsets ranged from January 2010 to January 2015, with incidents reported in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The three deaths were in Kansas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In September, the ice cream maker announced – shortly after Blue Bell ice cream returned to stores in the Carolinas and Georgia – that it was recalling ice cream products made in its Sylacauga, Alabama, plant because there was a potential that an Aspen Hills cookie dough ingredient contained listeria. Other companies, including Weight Watchers and Cedar Crest Specialties Inc., also recalled ice cream products made with Aspen Hills-supplied cookie dough. Aspen Hills also issued its own recall, according to the FDA’s letter.
The FDA visited Aspen Hills in September and October, according to a Jan. 10 warning letter, and found listeria in swabs taken from a number of areas in its processing facility. FDA staff wrote in the letter:
The presence of Listeria monocytogenes in your facility is significant because it demonstrates your cleaning and sanitation practices are inadequate to effectively control pathogens in your facility to prevent contamination of food. Furthermore, Listeria monocytogenes found in the environment of your facility increases the risk of your finished product becoming contaminated.
The FDA acknowledged in the letter that Aspen Hills had taken steps to address the listeria issue, including hiring a third-party laboratory and consultant and revising its testing, cleaning and pathogen monitoring procedures.
Genetic testing of the samples taken from Aspen Hills showed that the listeria strain matched two samples taken from ice cream products tested by a commercial lab and one taken from a cookie dough ingredient sample taken by the state of Texas in 2016, according to the FDA.
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