Blue Bell Ice Cream announced Friday that it has suspended operations at an Oklahoma production facility that officials had previously connected to a food-borne illness linked to the deaths of three people.

Last month, the company and health officials said a 3-ounce cup of ice cream contaminated with listeriosis was traced to a plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The now-recalled ice cream product, cups of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, is not sold in retail locations and is shipped in bulk to "institutional accounts" such as hospitals in 23 states that comprise less than 5 percent of the company's sales.

The recalled ice cream had been shipped to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.

Ten products recalled earlier in March were from a production line at a plant in Brenham, Texas, the company's headquarters. The recall, the first in the company's 108-year history, began when five patients at Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas, became ill with listeriosis while hospitalized at some point from December 2013 to January 2015. Officials determined at least four drank milkshakes that contained Blue Bell ice cream. Three of the patients later died.
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Listeriosis, also known as listeria, is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, according to the CDC. The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. The CDC also stated Friday that it has identified six patients with listeriosis between 2010 and 2014 that was indistinguishable from that found in the 3-ounce cup ice cream product traced to the Oklahoma plant. Four of the six patients were hospitalized in Texas for unrelated problems before developing listeriosis, according to the CDC.

Blue Bell said it will conduct a "careful and complete examination" of its Oklahoma plant "to determine the exact cause of the contamination." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been notified of the company's decision to voluntarily shut down the plant, Blue Bell said. In response, several retailers, including H-E-B, Kroger, Randalls and Walmart all announced that they were removing Blue Bell products from the Broken Arrow facility from stores on Saturday.

On Monday, Sam's Club joined the other stores in halting sales of Blue Bell products from the facility. If you have any questions about whether the Blue Bell ice cream you bought is from the Oklahoma plant being inspected, simply take it back to the store where it was purchased and return it for a refund. Blue Bell brand products made at the Oklahoma facility can be identified by checking for letters “O,” “P,” “Q,” “R,” “S,” and “T” after the date on the bottom of the product package. Here is an example from the CDC: If a Blue Bell product is labeled “021217S,” it was produced at the Oklahoma facility because the letter “S” follows the “code date.”
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