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How Safe is the Ice Cream You are Eating This Summer?

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According to the findings of a recent Food & Drug Administration study of ice cream production facilities, the chances of contracting bacteria that can lead to food-borne illness is higher than we could possibly imagine. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

As Memorial Day weekend of 2019 fades into glorious memories of welcoming the official start of summer with traditional barb-b-ques, picnics and the compulsory trip to the beach, we often look forward to increasing our intake of America’s favorite summer treat. You guessed it folks!! We all scream for ice cream in practically every flavor the mind can conjure up, but now it appears that we may be screaming for reasons other than joy.

According to the findings of a recent Food & Drug Administration study of ice cream production facilities, the chances of contracting bacteria that can lead to food-borne illness is higher than we could possibly imagine. According to a Miami Herald report in April, the FDA study indicated that 21.3 percent of ice cream plants has listeria and 50.6 percent had “objectionable conditions or practices.”

Listeria monocytogenes is a disease-causing bacteria that can be found in moist environments, soil, water, decaying vegetation and animals, and can survive and even grow under refrigeration and other food preservation measures, according to the FDA. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The FDA was prompted to initiate this study, according to the Miami Herald report in the aftermath of the recall of16 ice cream products from 2013 to 2016. According to the report, pathogens were discovered and three people lost their lives in the 2015 outbreak of listeria in Blue Bell Ice Cream. Subsequently, during the years of 2016 and 2017 the FDA sent out inspectors to take environmental samples from 89 ice cream production plants in 32 states, according to the Miami Herald report.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) approximately 1600 people are adversely affected by listeria each year and about 260 die of this food borne illness.

The CDC reports that people who are most vulnerable to the inherent dangers of listeria are those with already weakened immune systems. It was reported that listeria can cause stillbirths and miscarriages in pregnant women and can be harmful for babies and senior citizens. Symptoms include headaches, stiff necks, fever, muscle aches and convulsions. The symptoms usually emerge anywhere between one to four weeks after eating contaminated food.

One particular ice cream production plant known as Working Cow Homemade in St. Petersburg had its registration as a food facility suspended by the FDA. According to the Miami Herald report, the company shuttered its doors but then reopened for ice cream storage and distribution purposes.

In a statement, the FDA said, “In selecting facilities for inclusion in the assignment, the agency sought to ensure representation from throughout the country and favored larger establishments whose product would be expected to reach greater numbers of consumers. They added that, “At the time the assignment was conducted, the 89 ice cream production facilities inspected accounted for about 16 percent of the domestic ice cream manufacturers in the FDA’s inventory.”

On May 29, the Newark Advocate reported that according to a letter from FDA Division Director Steven Barber, federal inspectors found “serious violations” at Velvet Ice Cream’s manufacturing center in Utica, Ohio including the presence of Listeria.

In the letter, which was addressed to Velvet President Luconda Dager, Barber states that samples taken from the processing facility between Jan. 23 and Feb. 14 found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a disease-causing bacteria that can be found in moist environments, soil, water, decaying vegetation and animals, and can survive and even grow under refrigeration and other food preservation measures, according to the FDA.

According to a report on the Food Safety News web site, based on the FDA’s inspectional findings, and the analytical results for the environmental samples, the FDA determined that the ice cream manufactured in the firm’s facility is adulterated, in that it was prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.

“It is essential to identify the areas of the food processing plant where this organism is able to survive and grow to take such corrective actions as necessary to eradicate the organism by rendering these areas unable to support the survival and growth of the organism and prevent the organism from being re-established in such sites,” said the FDA.

“You should take prompt action to correct the violations noted in this letter,” the FDA advised, “Failure to do so may result in regulatory action by the FDA without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

Companies are allowed 15 working days to respond to FDA warning letters. Failure to promptly correct violations can result in legal action without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.

According to the Newark Advocate report, Dager said she has no concerns about the safety of the company’s product and that steps were taken to ensure that none of the ice cream was contaminated.

“We have addressed all the issues,” she said on Wednesday. “We’re still continuing to make a very safe, quality product.”

Dager said the Listeria was found in some drains in the plant. Since that time the company has replaced numerous drains and much of the brick floor in the production area. She said the company regularly tests its ice cream for listeria, according to the report in the Newark Advocate.

“At no time has there been any food contact area with this listeria,” she said.

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