Blue Bell lecture educates on food safety

Blue Bell has been in Texans’ watchful eyes since the spread of listeria in 2015. Although it was made public that the outbreak was caused by listeria, the investigation is still not over.
English Professor Michael Demson, Ph.D., helped coordinate an event to promote the investigation on Blue Bell. Sam Houston State welcomed investigative journalist Mark Collete from The Houston Chronicle to speak about his research into the Blue Bell fiasco.
“We decided to take what happened with Blue Bell as a case study for some larger issues the United States is facing,” Demson said.
The Honors College, English Department, LEAP Center and Writing in the Disciplines pitched in together to show the students different perspectives.
The event originally began as an Honors College seminar, but Demson and biology professor Patrick Lewis realized they had some research in common.
“We realized we had overlap in the field of food politics,” Demson said.
Demson and Lewis decided to create the seminar because they had an interest in cultural economic and social consequences of food production consolidation.
Demson reached out to Collette to ask if he was willing to run a seminar, and then later a public lecture to not only educate the audience, but give them perspective.
“It’s a good opportunity for students to see how their own academic work can connect with the professional world,” Demson said.
Demson said this lecture goes beyond just Blue Bell. He expressed the importance of consumer knowledge regarding the food we purchase and digest every day.
“Learning about this is so fundamental,” Demson said. “You eat multiple times so it is an opportunity to stop and think about what you’re eating and where it came from.”
Although the U.S. has increased food regulation policies, Demson said our food can still have problems.
“It’s the safest food we’ve ever seen but in other ways it’s introduced all types of problems to our society,” Demson said.
Demson explained the public lecture helped the community better understand the investigation process through Collette’s own experience.
“Mark Collette, even though from Houston, he allows us to engage with Brenham and understand what is going on there,” Demson said. “Potentially understanding our role in either supporting or regulating or engaging with not only Brenham, but the people of Brenham.”
Senior Jenna Jacobs is a native Brenham resident and also a former Blue Bell employee. Jacobs explained what working for the company was like.
“It was almost like family,” Jacobs said. “I loved it.”
Jacobs was a tour guide at Blue Bell, and didn’t know about the outbreak until everyone else did.
“I found out through the news because I wasn’t there at the facility,” Jacobs said. “What you heard on the news was as much as I knew at that point.”
Demson agreed that most Texans were in some sort of shock, and disappointment, after the story broke.
“It was definitely a different atmosphere after everything happened,” Demson said. “Especially at Blue Bell. Definitely different.”
Naturally, questions of Blue Bell’s safety precautions arose.
“As a tour guide we had a lot of safety precautions,” Jacobs said. “You wash your hands about 100 times a day. If your hands got raw from washing it so much, we wore gloves.”
As a Brenham native Jacobs said Blue Bell was loved not only all over Texas, but especially through the community.
“I eat a lot of Blue Bell,” she said. “I mean growing up in that town, they had others in the grocery store but you support your home town.”
Demson agreed Blue Bell is a Texas staple.
“I’m not from Texas but I’ve come to see how old the company is and how much it is beloved,” Demson said. “I think most people want Blue Bell to pull through this and they want to see it come back.”
Many people have mixed feelings about Blue Bell, but at the end of the day many Texans believe that little girl is still going to pull that cow forward.

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