A customer can usually tell when a food item has been messed with before purchase — a seal is broken; the box is damaged. However, most ice cream cartons don't have an extra layer of protection, which makes identifying food tampering for those containers a bit more difficult.
In a video posted to Twitter last week, a young woman is seen grabbing a half-gallon tub of "Tin Roof" Blue Bell Creameries ice cream from a Lufkin, Texas, Walmart freezer aisle, removing the lid and tonguing the top of the ice cream. She places the lid back on and laughs while returning the contaminated dessert to the shelf where another customer could presumably buy it.
Jessica Pebsworth, a spokesperson with the Lufkin police, told NPR on Friday that the young woman the department is calling the "Blue Bell licker" is actually a juvenile from San Antonio. Under state law, a juvenile is considered anyone under the age of 17. Police are not releasing her name publicly because she is a minor.
Police said she is connected to the area through her older boyfriend's family. And after confronting the two, officials called them both "forthcoming with what occurred and admitted to the act."
After the video surfaced online, Blue Bell Creameries said this type of incident would not be tolerated, adding that food safety is its top priority. The ice cream company called for all of its division managers to help identify the store from the clip.
"Within an hour of the corporate plea, a Lufkin division manager called, saying he believed it was Lufkin Walmart. He based this on the store's unique merchandising which matched the video," the police department said via Facebook.
"We're appalled that someone would do this," Lufkin Director of Public Safety Gerald Williamson said. "We take it incredibly seriously and we're acting on it as the major crime that it is."
During production, the company's half-gallon cartons are flipped upside down and sent to a hardening room where the ice cream freezes to the lid, which creates a natural seal. The lids are frozen tightly on the carton, making any attempt to open the product pretty noticeable, Jenny Van Dorf, a spokesperson for Blue Bell, told NPR.
After further investigation, the ice cream giant said it had located a carton of ice cream that appeared to be opened inside the Lufkin Walmart.
"Based on security footage, the location and the inspection of the carton, we believe we may have recovered the half gallon that was tampered with," Blue Bell said.
The company added that out of an abundance of caution, it has removed all Tin Roof flavor half gallons from the Lufkin Walmart shelves.
The recording, which grabbed national attention this week, has been watched more than 12 million times.
Some users took to social media to explain that the woman was simply "clout-chasing," or doing something for the sole purpose of receiving attention and going viral.
This specific trend hindered the police's identification process during the investigation. A "catfish" with a similar screen name began taking credit for the viral video, bragging on Instagram, "Yeah, I really did that. You can call it Flu Bell ice cream now 'cause I was a lil sick last week. Repost yourself doing this. Let's see if we can start an epidemic (literally)."
Police had to eliminate the "catfish" along with nearly six other women with similar screen names before confirming the identity of the actual suspect.
Tampering with a consumer product is a second-degree felony in Texas. Before identifying the suspect as a juvenile, police said she could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
The case will be turned over to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
Lufkin police said they are discussing the boyfriend's involvement with prosecutors as well as the possibility that he may face charges as an adult.
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