AUSTIN, Texas, May 15 (Reuters) - Texas ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries said on Friday it plans to lay off 37 percent of its employees as it tries to restart operations after a Listeria outbreak that led to a recall of its products and a hit to its reputation.
“We have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally,” Chief Executive Officer and President Paul Kruse said.
The company plans to lay off about 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time employees from its workforce of 3,900.
“There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time,” the company said.
It also plans to suspend operations at distribution centers in 10 states.
A day earlier, Texas health officials said it had reached an agreement with the ice cream maker to eventually bring its products back to stores.
Under the deal, Blue Bell Creameries must give two weeks notice before it starts to again ship its products so they can be tested to prevent another Listeria outbreak, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said Blue Bell agreed to overhaul its production and sanitation after swab tests showed the presence of Listeria on non-food surfaces at its Oklahoma plant.
Three people made ill by Listeria between January 2014 and January 2015 died in a Kansas hospital where Blue Bell frozen treats were served, health officials said.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Beech