WASHINGTON (AP) — Is ice cream safe to eat? Federal officials say yes, even amid recalls by two ice cream companies after the discovery of listeria bacteria in their frozen confections.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there's no reason to think that listeria illnesses and deaths linked to Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries and the discovery of listeria in a sample of Ohio-based Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams are related.
"Based upon what we know now, there is no connection between these two ice cream companies nor any reason to suspect that ice cream as a whole poses any special food-borne disease risk," said the CDC's Robert Tauxe.
Still, Tauxe said, the discovery of listeria is a "wake-up call" for the industry, since the bacteria isn't very common in ice cream. While the hardy bacteria thrive in cooler environments, they can't grow at freezing temperatures.
At least one other major ice cream manufacturer, Unilever, appeared confident, saying in a statement that the company has "robust quality and safety protocols across our ice cream network designed to prevent listeria contamination." Unilever owns Ben & Jerry's, Breyer's and other ice cream brands.
The FDA said consumers should feel safe eating any products that haven't been recalled.
"Despite these recalls, it is important to understand that ice cream in the United States is generally safe," said the FDA's Jeff Ventura. "These recalls are an example of companies taking appropriate action by getting potentially unsafe foods off the market."
The FDA is investigating the Blue Bell outbreak but hasn't said what caused it.
John Lowe, Jeni's CEO, said in a statement on the company's website that it is working with its suppliers to determine if the listeria was introduced by one of the ingredients the company uses.
The recalls may be evidence that testing has increased.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture discovered the listeria in a random sample of Jeni's ice cream as part of a program to test ready-to-eat products for foodborne illness. South Carolina health officials discovered listeria in Blue Bell products as part of a random sampling program focused on frozen desserts.