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DOJ Investigating Blue Bell Management over Listeria Outbreak

Update Date: Dec 30, 2015 09:32 AM EST

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Blue Bell Creameries over the Listeria outbreak that caused three deaths earlier in the year.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, Listeria was found in three of the ice cream companies' manufacturing plants, which are in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas. The records showed that Blue Bell knew that one of the locations was contaminated since 2013.

The FDA report also found other startling practices at these plants. The report continued that the equipment used to create the ice cream was unsanitary and that condensation was allowed to drip directly into the ice cream.

CBS News spoke about the company's sanitary practices with two employees from the Texas location at the time.

"On the wall by the 3-gallon machine, if it rained real hard and water sat on the roof, it would just trickle down," Gerald Bland said.

The other worker, Terry Schultz, recalled the response he got from management when he complained about the factory's conditions.

"The response I got at one point was, 'is this all you're going to do is come here and bitch every afternoon?'" he said.

Blue Bell closed down all three locations and recalled their ice cream during the outbreak. The locations have since been reopened and Blue Bell ice cream is slowly being stocked in stores. Blue Bell ships to 15 states.

"Our fans in phase five have been waiting on this news for a long time," said Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell, in regards to the company's plans for expansion. "We will begin filling stores on Jan. 18, but due to the size of the area and the number of stores to be serviced, it will take additional time to deliver to all locations. All of us at Blue Bell are very thankful for the patience and support our customers have shown during this time."

He added, according to the Fort Bend Herald, "Upon the completion of phase five, we will turn our attention to building inventory for the spring as well as adding additional products and flavors to our line-up. Even though we do not have a specific date, we plan to expand our sales territory whenever we are properly positioned to do so."

The DOJ's investigation will look into how much the management knew about the potential consequences of the practices that were going on at their production plants. The department will also try to determine when management first found out about these issues.

The DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch is reportedly in charge of the investigation with Patrick Hearn leading it.

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