Feds slap Texas ice cream brand Blue Bell with $17.25M penalty for distributing contaminated product

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A federal court has ordered Texas' Blue Bell Creameries to pay $17.25 million in fines for sending out contaminated ice cream, the largest-ever criminal penalty in a food safety case, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department announced the fine Thursday, saying it stems from Blue Bell's inadequate response to a 2015 listeria outbreak. The Brenham-based company pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor accounts of distributing adulterated products in May of this year.

“The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said in a statement.

Federal authorities linked the strain of listeria found in one of Blue Bell's contaminated products to one that sickened five people in Kansas in March 2015, according to the Justice Department.

Blue Bell temporarily closed its plants in 2015 to clean and update them. Since reopening, the ice cream company has taken major steps to enhance sanitation and better test for contaminants, the DOJ also said.

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