The Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into Blue Bell Creameries over a deadly Listeria outbreak that prompted the company to pull its products and shut down its plant, NBC News reported.
The investigation was first reported by CNN, citing sources with knowledge of the case.
According to NBC News, federal investigators are working to determine what the ice cream maker knew about the Listeria contamination and when. The infectious bacteria is carried by animals and can be transmitted to food products. It can live and grow in freezers.
An outbreak linked to Blue Bell sickened 10 people, killing three of them, between January 2010 and January 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company voluntarily recalled all its products last April and closed plants in Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the company knew one plant was contaminated as early as 2013.
"Their inspection reports and what the FDA found when they went there in the spring were pretty horrific," food safety attorney Bill Marler told NBC News. "They knew that listeria was in their plant. It was a problem ongoing, longstanding, and they didn't do anything about it."
The CDC traced Blue Bell-related illnesses back to 2010, NBC News reported.
Recent Justice Department investigations into large-scale cases of food-borne illness have resulted in fines and even prison time.
Blue Bell has not returned request for comment on the reported investigation.
Store shelves have been restocked in Texas and Alabama. Blue Bell products will return to retailers throughout the Southeast by the end of the month, according to NBC News.
The company has said its products are now safe to eat.