RFT File Photo
Serendipity has a parlor in Webster Groves but serves restaurants across the city.
After a patron complained that she'd gotten sick from ice cream purchased at the Fox Theatre, Thom Johnson, the theatre's vice president of events, food and beverage, was taking zero chances. He called in the city's health department.
The ice cream sold at the Fox is prepackaged, sold in individual serving cups from the theatre's supplier, Webster Groves-based Serendipity Ice Cream. Harold Bailey, a spokesman for the St. Louis City department of health, says that an inspector arrived at the theatre that day, March 15, and found that the ice cream was stored properly.
But that doesn't mean everything was A-OK. Two of the three product samples they tested, Bailey says, showed bacteria beyond what is considered above acceptable.
Because Serendipity makes its product in the county, St. Louis County inspectors have jurisdiction over its kitchens. Bailey says the case was referred to them, and County Spokeswoman Allison Blood confirms that county staff obtained samples on March 16 and 18.
In one of those samples, Blood says, they found a high coliform count.
Because coliform is easy to test for, it's often used as a way to measure general hygiene in products like ice cream. Generally, it can indicate a problem with sanitation or refrigeration and can cause diarrhea.
(In a prepared statement, Serendipity owner Beckie Jacobs denied that the county had found any problems with the ice cream. She also suggested the Fox might be to blame. Her complete statement is below.)
The elevated levels of the bacteria could have required action, Blood says. "If high coliform count was found, any ice cream remaining from the batch would have to be discarded," she says. However, "in this situation, no ice cream was remaining from that batch."
At the Fox, however, Johnson says he was unable to get information from Serendipity about which additional ice cream servings could be affected. "There were no batch numbers," he says. Deciding, again, to err on the side of caution, his staff dumped all the remaining ice cream on site — about $4,000 worth.
"We made a decision that we just didn't want to take a chance," he says.
Johnson says the lack of batch numbers is the big reason he's decided to go with a difference ice cream vendor next season. "Serendipity is a wonderful company, and we have a great relationship with them," he says. "People love this ice cream. But we want to go with something a bit more regulated."
Here is a statement from Serendipity's Jacobs, printed in its entirety:
Approximately six weeks ago, the St. Louis City Health Department alerted us that one medical student claimed they were sickened after eating our vanilla ice cream at the Fox Theater. To our knowledge, no other customer complaints were – or have been – reported to us, to the Fox, or to the City Health Department. The St. Louis County Public Health Department tested ice cream obtained from our retail location two days after the incident was reported and found it to be well within acceptable standards for consumption. The ice cream tested was from the same product lot that was served at the Fox.
While we were told the Fox threw away the remaining product as a precaution, tests on that product showed it may have been sitting out too long before being served. We view this as an isolated incident, having been advised by health inspectors from the City and County that no further actions are required by us. The health and safety of our customers are of the utmost importance to all of us at Serendipity, that’s why we take such tremendous pride in the quality and integrity of all of our products. As the summer ice cream season approaches please be sure to keep your dairy products properly chilled.
The St. Louis County Health Department did not respond to several follow-up questions yesterday, including whether they generally notify the public in the case of a finding like this one. Blood did say that health inspectors were visiting Serendipity again yesterday, one day after initially receiving questions about the coliform finding from Riverfront Times
. She did not respond to a question asking whether health inspectors had been on the premises since the incident prior to hearing from a reporter.
Serendipity has been RFT's previous choice for "Best Ice Cream Parlor
," among numerous other local accolades.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at email@example.com