Ice cream maker says the building is part of its commitment to continue operations beyond Listeria outbreak
Blue Bell Creameries production will likely be idle for months until life-threatening bacteria is removed from its plants, but the creamery says it’s looking ahead and plans are to occupy its Luling distribution building this year.
“It will let us better serve the customers in the area,” said Joe Robertson, spokesman for the Brenham, Texas-based company, of the nearly $3 million hub in Esperanza Business Park. “It’s just a great location to help relieve the pressure on those two branches” in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“We have an uncertain timetable with our production facilities, but that’s our concentration right now and then we will transfer attention to the branch facilities,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to get back to market as fast as we can.”
Robertson said Blue Bell occupying the Luling site or branch is part of its intent to continue operations.
An estimated 70 percent complete, Robertson said building construction is temporarily on hold until the company restores production. Although he could not specify when the company plans on using the site, he did say they expect to use it this year.
The 14,700 square-foot building will house cold storage units at -18 degrees to hold ice cream and supply up to 18 distribution routes in Louisiana. Distribution routes will be diverted to the Luling branch from New Orleans and Baton Rouge branches, which Robertson said are overloaded.
A typical branch distributes up to 400 pallets of product to a 75-mile radius of the facility.
Blue Bell also has distribution centers in Slidell, Lafayette, Ruston and Shreveport, as well as numerous locations throughout the U.S.
The company broke ground for the Luling hub in April of 2014.
At the time of the announcement, plans were to hire five full-time office and dock workers, as well as several part-time employees and transferring up to 40 drivers there from neighboring distribution centers.
On May 15, to deal with idled plants, CEO and President Paul Kruse said “due to the extended timeline” necessary to resume production, which he said could take several months, that the company had to lay off 1,750 full-time employees and 700 part-time workers, the first layoff in the company’s 108-year history.
Robertson said they also furloughed 1,400 employees with the expectation they’d return when the company resumes making ice cream.
On April 20, Kruse announced testing revealed the bacteria, listeria monocytogene, that can cause listeriosis, a life-threatening infection was found in more than one of its plants.
The company idled its plants in Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma, voluntarily recalling its products, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks.
“While we initially believed this situation was isolated to one machine in one room, we now know that was wrong,” Kruse said in a press release. “We need to know more to be completely confident that our products are safe for our customers.”
The company “took an overall approach to any potential pathways for listeria to enter the building and that’s where we’re at,” said Robertson of an effort that included bringing in a team of microbiologists to help pinpoint the source of the bacteria. “We’re going to eliminate those pathways before we come back.”
The company’s ice cream has been linked to 10 listeria illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. Blue Bell signed agreements with health officials in Texas and Oklahoma detailing how it addressing health safety issues to resume ice cream production.