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Sad Day In Brenham As Blue Bell Lays Off Over One Third Of Its Workers

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Nathan Cone
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Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham is laying off a third of its workers as it tries to recover from massive recalls.

Blue Bell Creameries Friday announced layoffs of 37 percent of its 3,900 employees, the first such action in the company's 108-year history.

The Brenham, Texas-based ice cream maker said it would lay off 750 full-time and 700 part-time workers and put "approximately 1,400" on partially paid furlough in its efforts to recover from the devastating listeria outbreak that caused three deaths and forced the company to recall all of its products nationwide. 

Blue Bell President and CEO Paul Kruse made an announcement on the company's website, calling the decision agonizing.

"The most difficult thing I've had to deal with in my life is the incredibly tough decision to reduce pay and lay off some of our great people at Blue Bell," Kruse said.

"We're all part of one team and we tried to keep everybody on the payroll as long as possible. The whole process of getting ready to make our ice cream again and get it right is taking longer than anticipated," he said.

Blue Bell also has suspended operations and laid off employees in its national distribution centers in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

The announcement comes one day after the company agreed to a stringent plan by the Texas State Dept. of Health Services that outlines a series of steps Blue Bell must take to get back to the business of selling ice cream. 

"We do not have a firm timeline for when we will start producing again, and when we do, we will start up in a more limited way. So we do need to reduce salaries and the size of our workforce," Kruse said. "We have to be sure we are financially strong enough to get back to market for our employees, our communities and customers."

The Centers for Disease Control said as of April 21, 2015, a total of ten people with Listeriosis related to Blue Bell products had been confirmed in Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Three people died.

The CDC's original announcement in March indicated several people in Kansas had become ill, and Blue Bell recalled some of its single-serve products at that time. It was thought that the contamination originated in the Oklahoma plant. Later, recalls were expanded after listeria contamination was found in the Texas plant. The CDC later discovered the Blue Bell listeria outbreak could be traced to 2010. 

Blue Bell voluntarily recalled all of its products on April 20, 2015.