Blue Bell Creameries: A Chilly Response to Unsanitary Working Conditions
Lisa Burke-Smalley, Olivia Young, Nai Lamb
December 31, 2018
Strategy & General Management
management, food industry, health and safety, product recall, public policy
Journal of Critical Incidents
In 2015, Blue Bell issued its first recall since its founding in 1907. This critical incident concerns the outbreak of listeria in Blue Bell Creameries’ ice cream products, which hospitalized ten people and killed three. The incident stemmed from years of unsanitary work conditions in various Blue Bell factories around the U.S. Multiple employees reported these improper work conditions to upper management, but their voices were not heard until it was too late. When the outbreak was discovered in a random health department inspection, factories were shut down, employees were laid off, and a recall of Blue Bell Ice Cream was issued in 23 states. How did this outbreak go undetected for so long? How could Blue Bell have better responded to workers’ initial concerns and discoveries of harmful bacteria in its factories? What responsibilities does a company have to customers and workers before, during, and after unsanitary work conditions are discovered? How can a company create a culture of safety and regain customer loyalty after a product recall?