Cookie dough maker linked to outbreak ceases production

by Jeff Gelski
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Raw cookie dough
Aspen Hills offered cookie dough in such varieties as chocolate chunk, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin.

GARNER, IOWA — Aspen Hills, Inc., a cookie dough manufacturer linked to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in Blue Bell Creameries products, has ceased production.

“After much consideration, our owners have decided to end their involvement in the company and are actively looking to wind up their affairs through a sale or other orderly disposition,” said Jon Austin, a spokesman for the Garner-based company. “While that process is under way, we have ceased production as of the end of December. Even so, we are committed to addressing any questions raised by the F.D.A. so that the agency can be assured that our commitment to the safety and wholesomeness of our products will not waver even as we exit the market. To that end, we have detailed for the agency the many changes to our procedures and practices we put in place in response to its oversight; we appreciate the partnership and professionalism of its personnel throughout this process.”

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham, Texas, last September said it voluntarily was recalling certain ice cream products. Blue Bell identified the potential problem through internal testing and notified Aspen Hills, which then issued a voluntary recall of the products supplied to Blue Bell. In October, Blue Bell Creameries expanded the recall to all products made with cookie dough that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream
Blue Bell last September said it voluntarily was recalling certain ice cream products.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter dated Jan. 10 of this year to Aspen Hills that may be found here. The F.D.A. said it had inspected the company’s frozen cookie dough manufacturing facility from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6, 2016. Environmental samples collected from various areas in the facility found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. The F.D.A. investigators also observed “serious violations” of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulation for food.

“The presence of L. monocytogenes in your facility is significant because it demonstrates your cleaning and sanitation practices are inadequate to effectively control pathogens in your facility to prevent contamination of food,” the F.D.A. letter said. “Furthermore, L. monocytogenes found in the environment of your facility increases the risk of your finished product becoming contaminated.”

The F.D.A. letter acknowledged Aspen Hills took corrective actions after the F.D.A. presented its findings to the company. Aspen Hills hired a third-party laboratory and consultant group to conduct a review of operations and to make recommendations to changes in policy and procedures. It also included revising Standard Operating Procedures in the three areas of environmental pathogen monitoring, product sampling and testing, and cleaning and sanitizing facilities.

Blue Bell Cookie Two Step Ice Cream
The recall included such products as Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Blue Bell Cookie Two Step.

Aspen Hills conducted a voluntary recall of all lots of ready-to-eat cookie dough produced at the facility between June 8 and Sept. 30, 2016.

Thomas and Nancy Lundeen own Aspen Hills. The company’s facility had a daily production capacity of 180,000 lbs of product, which allowed the company to meet peak season needs of fund-raising, according to the company’s web site. Aspen Hills offered cookie dough in such varieties as chocolate chunk, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia and snickerdoodle. The company also offered such frozen items as cheesecake, cinnamon rolls and French bread pizza.
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