Updated January 2023 with an FDA warning letter – The Big Olaf ice cream Listeria outbreak has ended after causing 28 illnesses, one death, and one miscarriage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Twenty-seven people were hospitalized. Genetic tests showed that the outbreak strain of Listeria was found in Big Olaf ice cream samples and at the plant where the ice cream was made erasing any doubt that Big Olaf ice cream was responsible for these devastating outcomes.
The illnesses occurred over a 20-month period. Twenty-five of the people sickened either live in or visited Florida prior to developing symptoms of listeriosis. Except for one location in Ohio, Big Olaf ice cream is only sold in Florida.
When presented with information on July 1 that Big Olaf ice cream had been linked through epidemiological evidence to a deadly Listeria outbreak, the company declined to issue a recall. Then a spokesperson for the company issued a statement that called the epidemiological information “speculative” and claimed that the company was being unfairly “targeted.”
But Big Olaf did issue a recall two weeks later when the state of Florida shut down production of all Big Olaf ice cream on July 13 after nine environmental samples collected from the creamery’s facility on Cattleman Road in Sarasota, Florida tested positive for Listeria. Two days later, a 10th environmental sample and samples from 16 ice cream flavors also turned up positive.
Did Big Olaf ice cream make you or a loved one sick?
Where Was the Listeria Found?
The 10 Listeria-positive samples were among 100 samples health officials collected on July 7 visit to the production facility. According to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) spokesperson, Erin M Moffet, Listeria was found on:
- Two conveyor cross beams between machines
- Two floor drains
- A squeegee in a sink
- A metal floor support between machines
- Inside two pipes that transfer premix to the ice cream machine and
- A transfer pump outlet on a pasteurized ice cream cooler
The last two locations stood out to the Pritzker Hageman food safety team as posing a potentially disastrous level of risk, as those are direct product contact surfaces. The FDACS has ordered all processing equipment at the Big Olaf plant shut down.
The 16 flavors that tested positive for Listeria were:
- Blueberry Cheesecake
- Butter Pecan
- Cherry Cordial
- Chocolate Chip
- Coconut Almond Joy
- Cookie Dough
- Cookies & Cream
- Kahlua Krunch
- Mint Chip
- Plantation Praline
- White Chocolate Raspberry
Big Olaf Inspections
The CDC says dairy products are one the leading causes of Listeria outbreaks in the U.S. Unlike other bacteria, Listeria thrives in cold temperatures and in areas where moisture collects. Because of this known risk, companies that make food are supposed to monitor and control for Listeria and other foodborne pathogens.
The illnesses in this outbreak occurred over a 20-month period. But inspections prior to the outbreak didn’t find Listeria at the facility because inspectors didn’t look for it until illnesses were reported.
FDACS inspectors don’t collect environmental swabs and product samples for testing in routine quarterly inspections. Food Poisoning Bulletin reviewed five years of quarterly inspections from FDACS, from January 2017 to January 2022. The 22 categories on the form include assessment of the physical features of the plant, record-keeping, and the condition and cleanliness of the equipment, vehicles, packaging area, and general surroundings.
Of the 21 reports Food Poisoning Bulletin analyzed:
- Fifteen had no violations.
- Three had one violation. ( Storing ingredients on the floor of the freezer.)
- One had a violation for not keeping the door to the production area closed at all times. (To keep out flies and pests.)
- One had two violations for needed physical repairs including a ceiling tile that needed replacing and bare wood that needed paint.
- One was not applicable because the plant was temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
Federal inspections prior to the outbreak were similar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has two inspections, one in 2014 and one in 2019, of Big Olaf’s Sarasota facility posted on its website. A “foodborne biological hazard” was cited in both years. But even the serious of the two, which occurred in 2014, required voluntary, not mandatory action. In 2014, there were also two other violations one for food and color additives, the other was pesticide-related
Big Olaf Recall
The Big Olaf recall includes all flavors and lot codes with expiration dates through 6/30/2022. The recalled ice cream was sold in plastic pint and half-gallon containers and in 2.5-gallon tubs.
Where was Big Olaf Served?
Prior to the outbreak and Big Olaf Creamery of Sarasota, FL has not issued an ice cream Listeria recall but is contacting retailers to recommend that they don’t sell the ice cream, according to the CDC. Big Olaf operates stores in Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, Venice, Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, and St. Pete Beach. Big Olaf ice cream is also sold at :
- Beverly’s Ice Cream, Clearwater Beach
- Super Scoops, Treasure Island
- Sprinkles Ice Cream Shop and Retro Candy
- Sundial Beach Resort and Spa, Sanibel Island
- Good Ole Days, Punta Gorda
- Twistee Treat, North Ft. Meyers
- Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream, St. Augustine
- Fantastic Fudge, Fernandina Beach
- The Ice Cream Shop, Lehigh Acres
Big Olaf Ice Cream Listeria Outbreak
Health officials interviewed 23 of the patients. Eighteen of them said they ate ice cream in the month before they got sick. Of those, 16 reported eating Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream or eating ice cream at locations that might have been supplied by Big Olaf Creamery.
The people sickened in this outbreak ranged in age from less than 1 year old to 92 years old. Fourteen were male, fourteen were female. Seven of the female patients became ill during their pregnancy. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage and stillbirth. Tragically, that was the case for one of the pregnant women sickened in this outbreak.
Illnesses were reported from people living in Colorado (1), Florida (14), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Kansas (1), Massachusetts (2), Minnesota (1), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (1), New York (4) and Pennsylvania (1).
Symptoms of a Listeria infection can take as long as 70 days to develop. They include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, other muscle stiffness, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. The people sickened in this outbreak first became ill on dates ranging from January 1, 2021, through August 1, 2022. Seven of the illnesses occurred in 2021, the rest happened this year.
FDA Warning Letter
On December 9, 2022, the FDA sent a Warning Letter to Big Olaf stating that the company had not addressed the food safety violations outlined in a report following an FDA inspection of the Cattlemen Road facility that took place from July 19 to September 01, 2022. A company that received a warning letter from the FDA has 15 days to respond.
Experienced Listeria Lawyers
If you developed a Listeria infection after eating Big Olaf ice cream and would like to discuss your legal options, please contact our Listeria lawyers. Our Food Safety Team has more experience handling Listeria lawsuits than any other law firm in the country securing some of the largest Listeria settlements in U.S. history including a recent award of $6.4 million.
UPDATE This post was published July 1 and updated July 3, August 4, and August 8 to include information about the source of the outbreak, the number of people sickened, and additional investigation and testing that has been done.