Blue Bell Creameries must pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for shipments of contaminated products linked to a 2015 listeria outbreak, a federal court in Texas declared on Thursday.
The fines constitute the largest-ever criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case and are consistent with the terms of a plea agreement filed previously in the case, according to the Department of Justice.
Blue Bell, based in Brenham, Texas, pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products. Prosecutors in the case charged that the company dispensed products that were manufactured under unsanitary conditions and contaminated with listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that causes an illness that can be life-threatening.
“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an acting assistant attorney general, said in a statement. “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.”
In April, Chipotle Mexican Grill agreed to pay a $25 million fine — the largest food safety penalty on record — to resolve criminal charges accusing the company of serving contaminated food from 2015 to 2018 that made over 1,100 people sick. The agreement allowed the company to avoid conviction if it complied with an enhanced food safety program.