FDA report into listeria outbreak reveals Big Olaf employees didn’t have sink to wash hands, proper training

A Food and Drug Administration report into the investigation of a deadly multi-state listeria outbreak found several issues at a Sarasota-based creamery.

The inspection report from the FDA obtained by FOX 13 found Big Olaf did not have a written food safety plan or a written hazard analysis to address contamination or allergen cross contact.

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"So, another issue is cross-contamination, which this report actually mentioned, which is you could be buying one kind of ice cream thinking there is no peanuts in it. But if it was produced on a line that did use peanuts, that cross-contamination is enough to cause someone to die," Dr. Jill Roberts, a University of South Florida foodborne illnesses professor, said.

The CDC reports epidemiological, laboratory and traceback data showed that Big Olaf Creamery ice cream is what made people sick. A total of 28 people were infected, including one woman who died and another woman who said she suffered a miscarriage because of the outbreak.

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The report goes on to state "it was observed that there was no hand wash sink outside of the production area for employees to wash and sanitize their hands before entering the production room."

"They need to take and look at what happened in this case and make sure that  kind of thing doesn't happen to their product and to their customers, because it's not good, you know, for their customers. It's certainly not good for business," Bill Marler of The Food Safety Law Firm said.

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Marler represents the family of 79-year-old Mary Billman of Illinois. In a lawsuit filed against Big Olaf, the family alleges less than two weeks after she ate ice cream from Big Olaf's Creamery she died. The family was awarded $4 million, which includes $1 million in punitive damages.

"I've been doing this kind of work for 30 years. It's really rare to see a court award punitive damages in a case. But I think this is one of those where the facts were so egregious," Marler said.

The FDA said it conducted 14 inspections between July 19, 2022 and September 1, 2022. 

The CDC issued a recall of Big Olaf products last year and said the outbreak was considered over as of November 2, 2022.