- Blue Bell Creameries’ former CEO Paul Kruse was charged by federal prosecutors in connection to allegations of a “scheme” he led to cover up a deadly listeria outbreak in 2015.
- Kruse was charged with seven felony counts, according to federal prosecutors, who also wrote in a filing that he ordered some Blue Bell employees to remove potentially contaminated products from stores without issuing recalls or notifying merchants or customers.
- Blue Bell agreed to pay a $19.35 million fine, which prosecutors said was “the second largest-ever amount paid in resolution of a food-safety matter.”
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The former chief executive of Blue Bell Creameries was charged by federal prosecutors for his alleged efforts to cover up a deadly listeria outbreak that was traced to some of the company’s products in 2015, according to prosecutors.
Paul Kruse was charged with seven felony counts, including conspiracy, in connection to a scheme to “conceal from customers what the company knew about the listeria contamination,” federal prosecutors with the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said in a filing Friday.
For two months in 2015, Kruse was aware of tests from state and federal officials found multiple ice cream products made at two different plants had tested positive for listeria, prosecutors wrote, but he ignored the results and ordered some Blue Bell employees to remove potentially contaminated products from stores without issuing recalls and telling merchants or customers about the real reason for the withdrawal.
The executive told the employees to answer questions about the removed products that there had been an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine, according to federal prosecutors.
In addition to the products, prosecutors wrote that federal inspections of plants in Texas and Oklahoma found issues including problems with the hot water supply needed to properly clean equipment and deteriorating conditions that could lead to unsanitary circumstances.
“We faced a situation our company had never dealt with before, and our agreement with the government reflects that we should have handled many things differently and better,” Blue Bell said in a statement reported by The New York Times. “We apologize to everyone who was impacted, including our customers, our employees, and the communities where we live and work.”
“Today we are a new, different and better Blue Bell,” the statement reportedly said.
The 2015 outbreak was traced to three deaths and 10 hospitalizations across four states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Blue Bell has agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products and pay a criminal fine and forfeiture amount totaling $17.25 million, in addition to a payment of $2.1 million to resolve civil False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities.
“The total $19.35 million in fine, forfeiture, and civil settlement payments constitutes the second largest-ever amount paid in resolution of a food-safety matter,” federal prosecutors wrote.