Current president and CEO of Blue Bell Creameries, Ricky Dickson, took the stand this week to testify during the federal trial of former president and CEO Paul Kruse.
Dickson told prosecutors on Wednesday that he did not agree with Kruse holding off on communicating with the public about the 2015 listeria outbreak. Dickson, vice president of sales at the time, said the company became aware of some unsafe ice cream products in mid-February 2015 and began withdrawing the bulk items from the market, but did not send out press releases to alert customers until mid-March.
Dickson also disagreed with Kruse’s decision to withdraw products that tested positive for listeria, saying he instead wanted an immediate recall. A full recall of all products was not issued until April 20, 2015.
During that time, prosecutors accuse Kruse of instructing employees to tell customers there was a problem with a manufacturing machine upon picking up ice cream, if they were asked about it. Officials from Blue Bell clients like schools, hospitals and restaurants testified they were not told of any health issues relating to the listeria investigation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported three deaths and 10 hospitalizations as a result of the outbreak. Dickson said the deaths occurred before February, when Blue Bell first received positive listeria lab results, so no one became sick due to how Kruse chose to handle the situation.
Kruse is being tried on federal felony conspiracy and fraud charges. The company pleaded guilty separately to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The company paid $19.35 million in fines, forfeitures and civil settlement payments, the second-largest amount ever paid to resolve a food safety matter.
Dickson said the Department of Justice agreed not to prosecute him if he would testify in the case.
The trial continues next week.