Blue Bell to lay off, furlough workers in aftermath of listeria outbreak

HOUSTON — Blue Bell Creameries says it will lay off more than a third of its workforce following a series of listeria illnesses linked to its ice cream that prompted a total product recall.

The Texas company, whose production plants remain closed, released a statement Friday saying 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time workers are losing their jobs. That represents about 37 percent of the company's 3,900 employees.

The company is suspending operations at its distribution centers, including one in Wichita, and laying off those workers. In an e-mail, a Blue Bell spokesman said the company did not have an employee count for the Wichita center but said all its distribution centers had 30 to 50 workers.

In addition to Wichita, the company has about a dozen distribution centers across the U.S.

Another 1,400 workers will be furloughed, and employees essential to the ongoing clean-up and repair efforts will continue working, but have their pay reduced.

The layoffs come after the company signed agreements on Thursday with health officials in Texas and Oklahoma detailing steps the company will follow to resume production.