Blue Bell Creameries Agrees to Pay $19.35 Million in Connection with a 2015 Listeria Contamination Investigation

On May 1, 2020 the Department of Justice announced Blue Bell Creameries L.P. (“Blue Bell”) would forfeit $17.25 million and plead guilty to two misdemeanors related to introducing adulterated foods into interstate commerce between 2013 and 2015. Blue Bell will also pay an additional $2.1 million dollars to the Department of Justice to resolve a civil False Claims Act (“FCA”) investigation into unsanitary manufacturing facilities.

The original complaint, filed in the Western District of Texas, alleged Blue Bell produced ice cream in unsanitary conditions, resulting in listeria contamination. If proven guilty, unsanitary manufacturing practices violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Five consumers were treated in Kansas for listeriosis following their consumption of Blue Bell ice cream products. Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by the bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeriosis is known to infect more than 1,500 people each year, with the most severe cases found in those with compromised immune systems.

The FCA complaint alleged that Blue Bell did not abide by proper recall procedures when its employees failed to disclose details about the potentially contaminated ice cream to government officials. When goods and services are sold to government agents, companies make representations indicating that their products and manufacturing procedures meet federal requirements. If they do not, they could be subject to an FCA investigation.

Private citizens can initiate False Claims Act actions when they find evidence of misuse of government money or noncompliance with federal regulations. If successful, these private citizens may be entitled to a portion of the False Claims Act award. As demonstrated in this case, civil FCA investigations can occur jointly with investigations into criminality.

The legal team at SFMS has significant experience litigating FCA matters. SFMS has recovered more than $1 billion for federal and state governments in FCA litigation.  If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact John Roberts (jroberts@sfmslaw.com) or Alec Berin (aberin@sfmslaw.com).  We can also be reached toll-free at 877-891-9880.

SFMS is a law firm with offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. SFMS is an active member of International Advisory Group (iag.global), which provides us with the ability to provide our clients with access to excellent legal and accounting resources throughout the globe. For more information about our firm, contact us online.

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