Blue Bell announces return to Little Rock | Arkansas Blog

Blue Bell announces return to Little Rock


Blue Bell Ice Cream, struggling back to life after a shutdown linked to unsanitary products, says its gradual return to full operation will bring its ice cream back to Little Rock and surrounding areas Jan. 11.

It was never missed at my house.

The little ol' creamery in Searcy, Yarnell's, really is more of a little ol' creamery than megamaker Blue Bell, which is a whiz at marketing (just wait for untold free TV time as anchors and anchorettes ooh and giggle on-air about samples). Its operation wasn't always so fastidious.  See Texas reporting in September on past conditions at the Brenham plant.

In interviews with the Houston Chronicle, more than a dozen former employees of Blue Bell’s flagship Brenham plant described a company fighting to keep up with its growing customer base while sanitation and safety slipped. Cleanup workers regularly ran out of hot water, making machinery susceptible to pathogens and allergens. Reused packaging brought grime into the factory. Equipment went without safeguards for years.

The 14 employees have a combined 213 years of experience on the production lines. Their accounts are bolstered by the limited information reported by the Food and Drug Administration. They’re also backed by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation that blasted the company for failing to protect workers
Blue Bell officials would not agree to an interview to discuss the ex-employees’ assessments of their operation. Spokesman Joe Robertson offered a one-paragraph response.

“We are a family at Blue Bell and we have always valued all of our employees and want them to feel safe and enjoy working here,” he said via email. “Our employees are our company’s greatest asset and many have spent their entire careers with us. Workplace safety, sanitation, and employee training remain our highest priorities as we continuously work to improve.”

Blue Bell naturally would say that — if indeed there had been any shortcomings — they have all been rectified. Eat up, TV talent will demonstrate by example. The tubs are coming.

Blue Bell shut down entirely for a time to retool because of illness and three deaths linked to tainted products from plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama.

The company employs 22 people to distribute their products in Arkansas.

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