Jeni's CEO Says Listeria Found In Its Columbus Production Kitchen

Apr 25, 2015

Ohio food safety testers are adding ice cream to the list of items on store shelves that they check for contamination. The change comes as two well-known producers, Blue Bell and Jeni’s, recall frozen products amid concerns about listeria contamination.

Columbus-based Jeni's closed its retail stores Thursday and issued a nationwide recall for all of its products.  But finding out how listeria made its way into their frozen desserts might be harder than restoring any damage done to the company’s reputation.

Tracing the listeria contamination will be difficult says Michael Taylor, a deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration. 

“There's a lot of complexity of how listeria gets into products,” Taylor said Friday on the NPR/WBUR news magazine Here and Now.  Taylor said it's a tough task for inspectors. 

“They've got to go into the facilities and find the problems.  And the problems are sometimes hard to find.  What we need is a system of prevention,” Taylor said.

The Jeni’s recall came after listeria was found in ice cream sold at a Nebraska grocery store.

Signs posted Thursday at Jeni's locations in Columbus assured customers the stores would soon re-open for business. But a statement released a day later by company CEO John Lowe suggests it might take longer than anticipated. 

Lowe says listeria was found in swab samples taken in the Jeni’s Columbus production kitchen. He went on to say: “We will not reopen the production kitchen until we are emphatically sure it is clean of Listeria. Beyond that, we will not open the production kitchen until we know we have the proper new systems in place to ensure this problem is never repeated.”

Ohio State University marketing professor Shashi Matta does not think luring customers back to the Jeni’s brand will be a problem.  He calls the company’s handling of the situation “stellar.” 

“A recall situation will cost any company but I can sense that Jeni’s actions will probably not have a long-term effect on how consumers perceive the brand and how consumers will continue to patronize this brand,” Matta says.

Matta went on to say: “There are many examples of product recalls from brands that were trusted by consumers and how these companies bounced back mainly because of their actions during the recall:  How swift the action was; how comprehensive the action was and how transparent the action was. And in the case of Jeni’s, all three seem to be checked,” Matta says.

No cases of listeriosis have been reported from eating Jeni's products.