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)
We have initiated a voluntary recall of all our ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches. https://t.co/JUOXA4JT0e
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.
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