BRENHAM, TEXAS — Blue Bell Creameries on May 15 said it will lay off about 750 full-time workers and 700 part-time workers, or 37% of the total workforce of 3,900. The Brenham-based company said it made the move because of the extended timeline needed to ensure the quality and safety of Blue Bell’s products when the company resumes production and because the supply and distribution of its products will be limited for some time to come following a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that was associated with three deaths.
Blue Bell added it will furlough about 1,400 workers and suspend operations and lay off workers at distribution centers in Phoenix (two branches); Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City and Wichita, Kas.; Louisville, Ky.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas; Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; and Richmond, Va.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s president and c.e.o.,” said Paul Kruse. “At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally.”
Blue Bell said the process of cleaning and improving its four production plants will take longer than initially anticipated. The company said it has no timeline for when it will begin producing ice cream again and that when production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time.
On April 20, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all of its products on the market made at all of its facilities because the products had the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The products included ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, on April 21 said 10 people were reported to be infected with several strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Three deaths were reported from Kansas.
Blue Bell Creameries on May 14 said it had entered into voluntary agreements with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry. The agreements outline a series of steps and actions Blue Bell will take as part of its efforts to bring its products back to the market. The actions include facility cleaning and sanitizing, revised testing protocols, revised production policies and procedures designed to prevent future contamination, and upgraded employee training initiatives.Mr. Kruse said Blue Bell is discussing a similar voluntary agreement with the State of Alabama Department of Public Health. He added the company continues to work with the Food and Drug Administration.