Deal to restock Texas ice cream may melt $10,000/tub black market

DALLAS, May 14 (Reuters) - A thriving black market for Blue Bell ice cream recalled over Listeria concerns that saw asking prices of up to $10,000 a tub looked set to collapse on Thursday after the maker reached an agreement with Texas to bring its products back to stores.

Under the deal, Blue Bell Creameries must give two weeks notice before it starts to again ship its products so they can be tested to prevent another Listeria outbreak, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

When the 108-year-old Texas company, based in Brenham, announced a voluntary recall of all its products in April, some who had hoarded them took to the Internet to sell such items as Moo-llennium Crunch, Banana Pudding and Homemade Vanilla to consumers anxious they would never see the frozen treats in stores again.

To Texans, Blue Bell is a product many see as a defining element of the state’s culinary identity, along with the likes of barbecue, Lone Star beer and Tex-Mex cuisine.

An unopened pint of Krazy Kookie Dough, a product sold at stores for a few dollars, was being marketed on Craigslist for $10,000 before the company’s latest announcement.

“Purchased just mere weeks ago, this is like an oasis in the desert for you ice cream lovers,” the Austin-area seller posted.

Almost of all the listings come with warnings to customers that if they got sick, they knew the risk.

Other listings included a half-eaten tub of Homemade Vanilla for $500.

“No listeria (I ate the first half and I’m still here),” a Dallas-area seller posted.

No timetable has been set for the product’s return. Blue Bell has been re-evaluating its operations, looking to get its products back on store shelves soon. It was sold in 26 states as well as internationally.

Three people made ill by Listeria between January 2014 and January 2015 had died in a Kansas hospital where Blue Bell frozen treats were served, health officials said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said that Blue Bell agreed to overhaul its production and sanitation after swab tests showed the presence of Listeria on non-food surfaces at its Oklahoma plant.

For two years after resuming production, Blue Bell must report any presumptive tests of Listeria to authorities within a day of discovery, the department said. (Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Eric Walsh)