Blue Bell Workers Speak Out About Gross Conditions

Was the listeriosis outbreak that sickened at least ten people and killed three a terrible random event for Blue Bell Creamery, or the result of poor sanitation and policies? Former workers in one of the company’s Texas plants have now come forward to say that the company’s rapid growth in recent years led to unsafe conditions, such as water dripping on frozen treats and machinery that never stopped running so it could be cleaned.

One worker interviewed by the Houston Chronicle said that while cleaning the 200-gallon ice-cream mixing tank, sometimes the water would be closer to room temperature than hot enough to effectively remove butterfat and, more importantly, bacteria from the equipment. It might not seem like a big deal to have streaks of fat on equipment that’s going to be used to make more ice cream soon, but under butterfat is actually a favorite place for bacteria to lurk.

One worker who was willing to give his name and job worked at the plant for years, including time cleaning equipment and breaking down machines so they could be cleaned. He reported problems such as cross-contamination between different ice cream flavors that could cause problems for people with food allergies, but says that supervisors dismissed his concerns.

The company didn’t just skip safety measures to protect customers, but also lacked equipment that would protect workers and their limbs from industrial machinery. Workers interviewed by the Chronicle cited several accidents that took their or their colleagues’ fingertips off, and one injured her leg.

As the brand expanded into new markets, employees say that they cut corners to keep production going, even as the company remained a pleasant enough place to work. “There was a lot I thought wasn’t right, but I didn’t know nobody I could go to. They own the whole town,” one former worker, who didn’t want to be named, said.

Former Blue Bell workers describe dirty, unsafe conditions at Brenham ice cream plant [Dallas Morning News/Houston Chronicle]