Texas DSHS first wanted Blue Bell to recall ice cream linked to infections

AUSTIN — When the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) first learned that South Carolina had found Listeria in two Blue Bell ice cream products, it suggested the company prepare a recall notice.

But during testimony on day four of former Blue Bell chairman Paul Kruse’s jury trial, a DSHS official responsible for dairy for half of Texas said the department had agreed to a longer investigation from Blue Bell. , and that it was soon joined by the United States. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Charged with conspiracy and five counts of fraud, Justice Department attorneys try to use Kruse’s reluctance to issue a press release about the Listeria contamination to make their case.

Harris Hollingwood, DSHS dairy director for West Texas, was in the east in 2015 when Blue Bell was faced with a deadly listeriosis outbreak that killed three people and sickened at least 10. During his first contact after South Carolina’s Feb. 13 notice, Hollingwood said, “Texas has asked Blue Bell for a voluntary recall.”

“We felt there was a product that could still be marketed,” he said.

Hollingwood acknowledged that the DSHS had been involved in the investigation and that Blue Bell’s press releases about the outbreak were not issued until March 13, March 23 and finally April 20.

The March 13 recall notice related to the two ice cream products discovered by South Carolina. The noted March 23 recall, updated March 26, involved 3-ounce cups with chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream produced at its production facility in Broken Arrow, OK. Blue Bell recalled all of its products on April 20; simultaneously, it shut down all of its production facilities.

Prior to its actions, DSHS issued no health warnings or statements of its own, Hollingwood said.

Between Feb. 13 and March 13, Blue Bell appears to have sold regulators on Kruse’s plan to remove single-serve ice cream products from the market by asking the company’s roughly 1,500 driver-salesmen to pick them up.

Current Blue Bell President and CEO Richard S. “Ricky” Dickson remained on the witness stand for a second day on Thursday. He said 2.3 million ice cream products had been recovered by the drivers, of which around 300 were missing. Defense attorney Chris Flood said this translates to a 99.99% effectiveness rate.

Due to a hiatus in the prosecution witnesses’ schedule, Judge Robert Pitman told the jury he hoped to adjourn the trial until Monday, giving them a day off on Friday. Jury trials in Pittman Court begin at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 3:30 p.m. with two 20-minute breaks but no lunch.

That means the first week of the trial is likely over until Monday.

The prosecution and defense brought in additional talent just before the start of the jury trial.

Flood from Houston and John D. Cline from Seattle brought in David W. Overhuls from Houston. Overhuls brings extensive experience as a state attorney to the Houston area.

The Justice Department team of Kathryn A. Schmidt, Matthew Joseph Lash, Patrick Hearn and Tara M. Shinnick was joined by Anthony J. Nardozzi.

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