Listeria found inside Big Olaf factory; state orders shutdown

State officials have ordered the Big Olaf Creamery processing facility on Cattlemen Road shut...
State officials have ordered the Big Olaf Creamery processing facility on Cattlemen Road shut down after traces of listeria were found inside July 7.(WWSB-TV)
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2022 at 6:45 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The state has shut down all production of Big Olaf ice cream after nine environmental samples taken recently at its facility on Cattlemen Road tested positive for listeria.

Erin M. Moffet, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, says of the 100 environmental samples collected inside the facility July 7, nine have come back positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

“FDACS has issued a stop use order of the processing equipment where the Listeria monocytogenes was found. This will effectively shut down all operations at this processing facility, which had already been done voluntarily by the company,” he said in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon.

In the analysis reports release by the agency, the pathogen was found in:

  • Two conveyor cross beams between machines;
  • Two floor drains;
  • A squeegee in a sink;
  • A metal floor support between machines;
  • Inside two pipes that transfers premix to the ice cream machine; and
  • A transfer pump outlet on a pasteurized ice cream cooler.

Moffet also said they are waiting on results of one outstanding sample that is taking longer to develop.

“The Department is unable to comment further at this time beyond this update, given it is still an active investigation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued two warnings, advising customers not to eat Big Olaf products and throw out any products they have in their homes.

The CDC has been tracking people who have reported becoming ill after eating the ice cream and using DNA fingerprinting to identify specific bacteria transmitted.

Details of the ongoing CDC investigation listed in the alert note six patients remember eating Big Olaf ice cream, or they ate ice cream at locations that might have been supplied by the Sarasota creamery.

Eighteen patients have been interviewed by the CDC, 10 of whom claim they had recently eaten Big Olaf branded ice cream, or they ate ice cream from a location that might have been supplied by the Sarasota creamery.

Dr. Matthew Wise, branch chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch at the CDC, says listeria is difficult to eradicate.

“The thing about listeria is that it’s a it’s a pathogen, or a germ, that can kind of set up shop in a food production environment and sort of reside there for a really, really long period,” he told ABC7. “So sometimes you’ll have listeria and a piece of equipment or a production facility that can, you know, slowly contaminate food over really, really long time periods.”

Two lawsuits have already been filed against Big Olaf. Kristen Hopkins of Massachusetts alleges that she became ill and miscarried after eating ice cream tainted with listeria while attending a wedding in Clearwater. Listeria is particularly dangerous to developing fetuses, the CDC says.

Another suit has been filed by the family of Mary Billman of Minneapolis, who died 11 days after her family says she ate ice cream at Big Olaf Creamery’s Bahia Vista location in Sarasota.

On Wednesday, it was also announced that two of Big Olaf’s retail stores were reopening this week, serving another brand, McClain’s homemade ice cream, also based in Sarasota.

The Cattlemen Road location opens Thursday; its Tamiami Trail location is set to open Saturday.

Big Olaf has not talked to ABC7 despite repeated requests for comment. It posted the following statement on its website:

“For now, it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation, our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases, I am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. The original report we got from the Florida Department of Health on Friday July 1st, was that there are 23 cases reported, the first one reported was January 2022. 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven. We have been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health, FDACS and the FDA as soon as we were informed about the situation. We have been transparent and have answered all their questions and provided them with all the information requested from us, as the health and well-being of the public is our first priority.”

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