Here's the latest SITREP as I know it:
The main sources of the listeria contamination reported was found from condensation on cold overhead piping dripping down onto ice cream cartons headed for the production line and on pallets holding containers of ingredients. Blue Bell is revamping their production lines and upgrading their facility equipment and processes as a result of the findings. They are also upgrading their product testing procedures to make it easier to detect any potential contamination in the future.
Since listeria bacteria is everywhere in our environment, it's extremely difficult to prevent it from getting on surfaces inside food preparation facilities, especially since employees can easily transmit if from the outside to inside on their clothing. Many food preparation/production plants have the advantage of eliminating potential contamination by heat from pre-cooking processes. Ice cream production facilities of course pasteurize the incoming milk & cream to kill bacteria in the first process step, but the remaining processes are all cold, so they don't have the benefit of cooking to kill any potential bacteria, and listeria can survive freezing temps.
As for when Blue Bell ice cream will reappear in grocery stores, nobody knows for certain. Based on what I'm hearing, I wouldn't expect to see it in stores until maybe December or January at the earliest. They just started a limited production run in the Sylacauga, AL plant to verify their prevention processes are sound. The Broken Arrow, OK facility is supposed to relaunch production next, with the Brenham headquarters plant resuming production last.
This has hit our community HARD. Not only was this the first time in Blue Bell's 108 year history that they've ever laid off any employees, but the shutdown has hurt many local dairies and suppliers. Blue Bell is one of the largest employers in our area and the 2nd largest employer in Brenham. They are a good company who contributes a lot to the community. The impact on our local economy is made especially tough given the double whammy of the huge drop in oil & gas production and subsequent layoffs in those businesses either directly or indirectly related to energy. Two other major employers in Brenham have had recent massive layoffs as well, and this combination is devastating to Brenham, with a population of only 16,000.
I think Blue Bell will survive and come back strong, but until then, our little community is really hurting. I can tell you for certain that when Blue Bell ice cream does reappear, stores will have a hard time keeping it in stock, because it enjoys some very loyal customers. My family is one of them.