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No one saw it coming. A single ice cream sandwich, temporarily rattling a nation’s faith in frozen dessert.

Truth be told, it might have shocked Megan Davis the most.

“You hear about recalls everyday, but you never really think you would be the one who would find the sample,” says Davis, who, at the time, was with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s food safety lab.

It was her three-person team that in February 2015 first discovered the microscopic Listeria pathogen lurking in a couple of ice cream bars pulled from a Blue Bell Creameries distribution center in Lexington, South Carolina. By the end of April, Blue Bell sent out a public request that all its ice cream products—more than 8 million gallons of the stuff—be removed from every home and store freezer.

The company cut 37% of its staff, furloughed many more and imposed wage reductions. It was the fallout from the first product recall in Blue Bell’s 108-year history, which almost drove the beloved Texas-based brand into ruin. The signs of a Listeria infection can be tough to distinguish from other infections—flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches and nausea—but can also be deadly when it strikes people with weakened immune systems. The Blue Bell outbreak wound up sickening at least 10 people across four states and led to four deaths.

“It was overwhelming,” says Davis. “I mean, really it was hard to believe the impact of finding two positive samples.”

It was a horrifying scenario to watch unfold. Weeks of damning headlines, illnesses across several states, and the entire dismantling of a trusted brand. And it was just one of hundreds of food safety outbreaks that same year.

The reality, though, is that it was a sign of something good. The increase in alerts about food illness outbreaks and product recalls is a signal that the system for testing food for dangerous pathogens is working, and making strides toward improvement.

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