Blue Bell Creameries, the famed Texas ice cream company, will layoff 1,450 employees after listeria problems have halted their production. The full-time and part-time employees losing their jobs account for 37 percent of Blue Bell’s work force. Another 1,400 workers will be furloughed and those staying on because they are essential to the clean-up process will have their pay reduced.
Until now the company had not laid off an employee for 100 years.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and President,” said Chief Executive Paul Kruse in a video posted on the company’s website.
The listeria outbreak was linked to Blue Bell ice cream in early April prompting the company to voluntarily recall all of their products on April 20.
On May 7, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded an inspection of production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. Listeria was found at the company’s main production facility in Brenham, Texas, and they found that the company had failed to tell health officials about repeated listeria findings in their Oklahoma plant dating back to 2013.
Kruse explained in his video statement that it was taking longer than expected to get their production facilities up to standard so that they could begin production again. He also said when they start production again it will be in a limited capacity. Blue Bell Creameries could not afford to keep everyone on staff in the meantime.
On Thursday Blue Bell Creameries signed agreements requiring that they will inform each state within 24 hours of a positive test result for listeria in their products or ingredients at one of their production facilities. This requirement will be in place for two years after Blue Bell products are back on shelves.
Brenham is a small town of around 16,000 people and home to both the Blue Bell Creameries headquarters and main production facility. It is the second biggest company in the town, employing about 900 people. Without its famous ice cream or tours of the plant, the town is not seeing the normal tourist traffic.
“Some people came in from France, and I had to try to explain why we didn’t have any ice cream,” said Charlie Pyle, owner of Must Be Heaven Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Brenham, to The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t know how to say listeria in French.”
Blue Bell Creameries has said it will be several more months before their products are back in stores.