A woman who licked a tub of ice cream before putting it back in a supermarket freezer could face up to 20 years in prison, according to US police.
Police are working to confirm the identity of a female suspect, seen outside a Walmart branch in Lufkin, Texas, around 11pm on 28 June, before issuing an arrest warrant on a charge of second-degree felony tampering with a consumer product.
That charge carries a sentence of between two and 20 years in prison, along with a potential fine up to $10,000 (£8,000), according to the Texas penal code.
A video of the incident, which involved an unnamed woman who has been dubbed “the Lufkin licker”, went viral on Twitter and has been viewed more than 11 million times since it was posted in late June.
Police are also looking for a man who is thought to have filmed the video and can be heard encouraging the woman to lick the tub of Blue Bell ice cream and put it back in the freezer.
A woman who claimed to be the suspect on social media said she had flu when she licked the ice cream and dared other people to post videos of themselves copying her actions.
Blue Bell said they believe they have retrieved the tampered ice cream tub but have removed all half-gallons of the product from the Lufkin Walmart as a precaution.
Gerald Williamson, Lufkin director of public safety, said: “Our biggest concern is consumer safety – in that regard we are glad to see the tainted product off the shelves.”
He added: “We’re appalled that someone would do this. We take it incredibly seriously and we’re acting on it as the major crime that it is.”
In a statement, Lufkin police confirmed that the crime could carry a 20-year imprisonment as punishment and said the department was consulting with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over possible federal charges.
Blue Bell has sought to assure customers that the tampered ice cream was not sold.
“The safety of our ice cream is our highest priority, and we work hard to maintain the highest level of confidence of our customers,” they wrote in a statement.
“Food tampering is not a joke, and we will not tolerate tampering with our products. We are grateful to the customers who alerted us and provided us with information.”
The company added that their half-gallon products have a natural seal created during the freezing process which means any attempt to open the product should have been noticeable to customers.
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