US Justice Department launches criminal investigation of Blue Bell

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Blue Bell Under Investigation By Justice Department

Blue Bell's executives could be in some hot water, criminally, for the ice cream company's months-long listeria epidemic. The Justice Department has reportedly opened an investigation into Blue Bell to figure out what corporate executives knew and, perhaps more important, when they knew it. In some ways, it's a wonder it took the agency this long -- both the FDA and the CDC have said there's evidence Blue Bell kept shipping ice cream despite being aware of listeria in the production lines for years prior to the March outbreak (since 2013, according to the FDA, and as far back as 2010, according to the CDC).

To make things worse, in September, anonymous workers claimed a variety of disgustingly unhygienic practices -- the worst definitely being an employee's loss of "parts of one or more fingers" -- were pretty commonplace around the plants because they were running "virtually 24/7" in order to keep up with heavy demand.

Right now, there are scant details about the breadth of the DOJ's inquiry, and the agency is of course being taciturn. But the feds have made a recent habit of prosecuting companies responsible for selling contaminated products that cause illness and deaths: Earlier this year, they got former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell a record 28 years in prison for his role in covering up a salmonella outbreak that, just like the listeria in Blue Bell's ice cream, killed people. Parnell famously emailed plant managers, "Shit, just ship it."

[CBS, WSJ]

See more on the Blue Bell outbreak:

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Blue Bell, Jeni's Splendid Listeria
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US Justice Department launches criminal investigation of Blue Bell
OVERLAND PARK, KS - APRIL 21: A Blue Bell Ice Cream truck is seen outside a Wal-Mart store after Blue Bell Creameries recalls all products following a Listeria contamination on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
OVERLAND PARK, KS - APRIL 21: Shelves are bare and signs are posted where Blue Bell products were displayed in a grocery store on April 21, 2015 in Overland Park, Kansas. Blue Bell Creameries recalled all products following a Listeria contamination. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
A sign in the window at a Jeni's Spendid Ice Creams shop tells customers the store is closed Friday, April 24, 2015, in Atlanta. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams has issued a widespread voluntary recall on all flavors of its Ohio-made ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets and ice cream sandwiches and closed all of its retail scoop shops because of possible contamination with potentially fatal Listeria monocytogenes.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
We have initiated a voluntary recall of all our ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches. https://t.co/JUOXA4JT0e
A sign on a window of the door on the left at a Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams states that the store is closed Friday, April 24, 2015, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Major recalls from two well-known ice cream companies due to the discovery of listeria bacteria raise questions about how the pathogen could have contaminated multiple ice cream manufacturing plants and whether the discoveries are related. Blue Bell Creameries of Texas and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams of Ohio, extremely popular brands in their home states took all their products off shelves this week. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
FILE - In this April 24, 2015 file photo, a sign on a window at a Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams states that the store is closed, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. CEO John Lowe said in a Tuesday, April 28, 2015 statement that Jeni's is destroying more than 265 tons of ice cream after listeria was found in the production facility and in products last week. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Blue Bell ice cream stands for sale on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kan., Friday, April 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Blue Bell delivery trucks are parked at the creamery's location in Kansas City, Kan., Friday, April 10, 2015. Days after a foodborne illness was linked to Blue Bell ice cream products, a state inspection of an Oklahoma plant later tied to the infection praised the facility for having no violations and doing a "great job," according to a copy of the inspection report. Tainted Blue Bell ice cream products have sickened eight people — five in Kansas and three in Texas. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Five people in Kansas have become ill, three have died, as part of a potential listeriosis outbreak, possibly connected to eating Blue Bell Creameries ice cream at a hospital, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
This photo shows a container of Blue Bell ice cream Friday, March 13, 2015, in Dallas. The deaths of three people who developed a foodborne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products has prompted the Texas icon’s first product recall in its 108-year history. (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin)
This photo shows a container of Blue Bell ice cream Friday, March 13, 2015, in Dallas. The deaths of three people who developed a foodborne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products has prompted the Texas icon’s first product recall in its 108-year history. (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin)
This photo shows a container of Blue Bell ice cream Friday, March 13, 2015, in Dallas. The deaths of three people who developed a foodborne illness linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products has prompted the Texas icon’s first product recall in its 108-year history. (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin)
Graphic shows the number of cases of listeria by state.; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;
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