Three of the five Kansas hospital patients who developed a foodborne illness linked to a few Blue Bell ice cream products have died prompting the first recall of the product in its 108-year history.
Five people developed listeriosis in Kansas after eating products from one production line at the Blue Bell creamery in Brenham, Texas, according to a statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Friday.
Listeria bacteria was found in samples of Chocolate Chip Country Cookies, Great Divide Bars, Sour Pop Green Apple Bars, Cotton Candy Bars, Scoops, Vanilla Stick Slices, Almond Bars and No Sugar Added Moo Bars, the FDA said.
The company said regular Moo Bars were uncontaminated its half gallons, quarts, pints, cups, three-gallon ice cream and take-home frozen snack novelties.
According to a Friday statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all five of the people sickened were receiving treatment for unrelated health issues at the same Kansas hospital before developing listeriosis, "a finding that strongly suggests their infections (with listeria bacteria) were acquired in the hospital," the CDC said.
Information was only available on four of the five patients. All four had consumed milkshakes with a single-serving Blue Bell ice cream product called “Scoops” while in the hospital, the CDC said.
"Scoops," as well as the other suspect Blue Bell items, are mostly food service items and not produced for retail, said Paul Kruse, CEO of the Brenham creamery
The listeria isolated from specimens taken from four of the patients at Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas matched the strains of contaminant from the Blue Bell products.
The five patients became ill with listeriosis during their hospitalizations for unrelated causes between December 2013 and January 2015, said hospital spokeswoman Maria Loving.
"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," Loving said in a statement Friday to The Associated Press.
Kruse said the company removed products from the shelves as soon as it was alerted about the contamination.
"The only time it can be contaminated is at the time of production," he said. That contamination has been traced to a machine that extrudes the ice cream into forms and onto cookies, and that machine remains off line, he said.
All products now on store and institution shelves are safe, Kruse said.
The CDC said contaminated ice cream products may still be in consumers’ freezers.
Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, the CDC said. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with immune systems weakened by cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions.
A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has invasive infection, meaning the bacteria spread from their intestines to the blood, causing bloodstream infection, or to the central nervous system, causing meningitis. Although people can sometimes develop listeriosis up to two months after eating contaminated food, symptoms usually start within several days. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics, the CDC said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report