Jeni’s Founder: Kitchens Are Safer, We’re Ready To Reopen

Jeni Britton Bauer constructed her business from the ground up, starting with a single free-standing counter inside the North Market.

So, when that report emerged that potentially deadly Listeria was found inside a pint of one of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, she acted quickly to protect her name and her customers.

The recall was ordered within 12 hours, and she didn’t hesitate to order the disposal of 265 tons of ice cream.

“I cared very deeply about the ice creams that we make, but I cared much more about our customers and the team and that we made the right decisions,” Britton Bauer said. “And truly it never crossed my mind. I mean, really, it didn’t. . . . Really, the way I think about it is, ‘wow, that’s a lot of ice cream. We made that much ice cream?’ But I guess I really don’t think about that it’s sad to throw it away.”

Britton Bauer said the notes of encouragement left on the doors of her shuttered ice cream shops helped her get through the crisis.

“It was almost like we were sort of in this dark cave and we were all together and doing what we were doing, and then all of the sudden these lights start going off,” she said. “And we started reading all these things, and it truly was like suddenly there was light.”

The month-long shut down and the recall cost Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at least $2.5 million. Now, she is fighting to rebuild, and reacting to news today that government investigators found inadequate testing and cleaning at Jeni’s Columbus plant.

Jeni’s CEO John Lowe said the report was filed April 30, and the company had fixed every issue by May 11.

The Food and Drug Administration report said Jeni’s managers did not have an adequate sampling and testing program and were not sufficiently sanitizing some surfaces, including the floors. The report said residue was found on some equipment.

Jeni’s regulatory manager and director of operations – the employees responsible for assuring compliance with government food safety guidelines – showed a “lack of competency” by failing to comply with some of those guidelines, according to the report.

Britton Bauer said the FDA had no recommendations when it filed reports in 2013 and 2014.

“We have been in lock step with the FDA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture this entire time,” she said.

They are making sweeping changes. The biggest is that the fresh berries and produce that her ice cream is famous for will never again come directly from the farm to her kitchen.

“We will still be working with the same farmers,” Britton Bauer said. “We’ll still be buying the same fields of produce. There’s many things we get from them but they will be going to a third party to be cleaned up before they come into our kitchen. And that’s going to help a lot because Listeria is on dirt.”

She says she still has not had time to reflect on the multi-million dollar Listeria crisis, or the recall that she ordered hours after learning about the contamination.

Britton Bauer says she is confident her kitchens are now safer and more efficient. And as for those loyal customers who were signing notes of support, she says she cannot thank them enough.  
I would just say thank you so much for supporting us,” she said. “It truly truly means the world to us and I will be down in the Short North tomorrow night if you want to come and say hi. I will give you a big hug.”

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