For most of its existence, Blue Bell Creameries has strongly held its throne as the most loved ice cream brand in Texas. With 66 distinct and unrivaled flavors, ranging from the favorite Homemade Vanilla to the sweet Caramel Turtle Fudge, Blue Bell has regularly received exemplary remarks about its products. Hence, after 108 years of a flourishing business, nobody expected that the pure reputation of Blue Bell would suddenly be tainted by a Listeria outbreak last year.
After a series of recalls, job cuts, and temporary shutdowns, many feared that this controversy would lead to the end of the Blue Bell regime. A few months after the first total recall, Blue Bell announced its plans to return to store shelves – to the relief of its loyal customers. Although Blue Bell is currently back on its feet with its newly reconditioned policies and procedures, the public’s views about the company now vary, with some being skeptical, others maintaining allegiance, and many lingering on the question, “Will I ever look at Blue Bell the same way again?”
On February 15, 2016, Mark Collette, investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle, tackled this issue as he presented a lecture entitled “Investigating Blue Bell,” highlighting what was involved in the 2015 Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak. Many SHSU students from different fields, such as English, Political Science, Marketing, and Health, filled the seats of Evans 105, eager to listen to Mr. Collette’s discussion, which was sponsored by the English Department, Honors Department, Writing in the Disciplines, and the LEAP Center. After being introduced by the English Department’s Dr. Michael Demson, one of the hosts of the event…
…Mr. Collette began his presentation.
He opened his talk relaying the history of Blue Bell, the company’s cherished relationship with its consumers, and the reasons why Blue Bell is number one to many. He then touched on the sensitive topics of Blue Bell’s management of health risks, work safety conditions, and product contamination. He also noted the shortcomings of the federal health authorities on enforcing the laws in place for foodborne illnesses. On a lighter tone, Mr. Collette pointed out Blue Bell’s clever marketing move of naming its Twitter account @IloveBlueBell amidst the controversy, meaning that any twitter discussions of it involved the statement “ilovebluebell.” Although Mr. Collette has written many “unfavorable” – as some may claim – articles about Blue Bell, he did so with the purpose of offering the public the truth.
In the aftermath, Blue Bell’s return to the industry came with several administrative improvements and much safer protocols in handling their products, which I personally think makes their ice cream more trustworthy now.
The lecture was enjoyed by the students, many of whom had questions. Collette generously answered questions right up until the end of the hour…
…and even stayed late to answer questions posed individually.
Following the lecture was a lunch hosted by the LEAP Center at the President’s Dining Room. Mr. Collette and 15 other guests enjoyed classic Cajun dishes, namely jambalaya and gumbo, but surprisingly, no Blue Bell ice cream for dessert.
There, both students and faculty continued to ask Mr. Collette about his knowledge, opinions, and experiences on different matters such as food handling safety, the Chipotle outbreak, difficulties as a journalist, and more.
Overall, the lecture and the lunch really helped the attendees, including myself, realize the importance of being more mindful to how the foods that we consume are being handled and manufactured to prevent being the receiving end of such outbreaks. Personally, and I am sure many would agree, I am hopeful that Blue Bell is much safer than before!