UPDATE: Woman seen licking ice cream in viral video could get up to 20 years in jail
UPDATE: A woman seen licking a tub of ice cream and returning it to a grocery store shelf in a viral video last week is facing up to 20 years in prison, police said Thursday.
The footage — which has been viewed more than 11 million times — shows the so-far unnamed woman opening a container, running her tongue across the ice cream then laughing as she places the violated dessert back in the freezer, in a branch of Walmart in the city of Lufkin in eastern Texas.
Police said on Wednesday they believed they had identified the suspect after "detectives had obtained surveillance video placing a woman matching the suspect description in the Lufkin store on June 28 around 11 p.m." They are waiting to finally verify her identity before issuing an arrest warrant.
Police also want to speak to the man she was with, who is thought to have filmed the incident and can be heard encouraging the woman to “lick it, lick it.”
She could face a second-degree felony charge of tampering with a consumer product, the Lufkin police department said in an email statement to NBC News. The charge comes with a two- to 20-year prison term and up to $10,000 in fines, according to Texas state penal code.
Investigators are also in discussions with the FDA and additional federal charges could be made.
"Our detectives are working to verify the identity of the female suspect before a warrant is issued for her arrest on a charge of second-degree felony tampering with a consumer product,” a police spokesperson said.
“As that portion of the investigation continues, detectives are focusing on identifying the male (in the green shirt) behind the camera seen in images of the two entering the store together.”
Police added that detectives will continue to work through the Fourth of July holiday on the case.
The search to determine exactly where the incident took place sparked an investigation spanning from San Antonio to Houston, police said on Facebook.
Blue Bell Creameries, the local manufacturer of the ice cream brand the woman licked, has called the incident a "malicious act of food tampering."
All tubs containing the mix of creamy vanilla ice cream with swirls of chocolate fudge and dark-chocolate-covered roasted peanuts have been removed from the store's shelves as a precaution, the company said. The specific carton believed to be compromised was found among the lot.
In an earlier statement, the company explained that its cartons are frozen upside down in production, which creates a natural, tight seal by freezing the lid to the tub, meaning consumers would notice if any tampering occurred upon opening a fresh tub.
PREVIOUS STORY: The search for a woman who licked a carton of Blue Bell ice cream in a Walmart has come to Lufkin, Texas.
The Lufkin Police Department is investigating the viral video of a woman licking Blue Bell ice cream and putting it back in the display case.
The video hit social media June 28, launching an investigation that led from Walmart stores in San Antonio to Houston and eventually Lufkin.
Early this week social media commenters identified the woman seen licking a half-gallon of “Tin Roof” as being from San Antonio. That lead San Antonio law enforcement to believe it was one of their Walmart stores. A store display case matching the one in the video could not be found.
The search then went to Houston Walmart stores after investigators learned the identified woman may be living with a boyfriend in that area. Again, a store display case matching the one in the video could not be found.
Earlier this morning, Blue Bell corporate instructed all of its division managers to see if they could identify the store location. 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.
At 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Blue Bell contacted Lufkin police, saying that they believed the viral video took place in the Lufkin Walmart store and that they had retrieved what they believed to be the tainted container of ice cream.
By 4 p.m., detectives had obtained surveillance video placing a woman matching the suspect description in the Lufkin store on June 28 around 11 p.m.
Detectives believe they have the woman identified and the investigation is ongoing.
Once identified, police say a warrant will be issued for her arrest on a charge of second-degree felony tampering with a consumer product.
“Our biggest concern is consumer safety – in that regard we are glad to see the tainted product off the shelves,” said Lufkin Director of Public Safety Gerald Williamson. “We are recommending that as a precaution Blue Bell remove products from the Lufkin Walmart shelves until our investigation is complete.”
Detectives are focusing on identifying the male (in the green shirt) behind the camera seen in images of the two entering the store together.
Detectives will continue to work through the holiday on this case.
Anyone who can identify this man is asked to contact the Lufkin PD at 936-633-0356 or Crime Stoppers at 639tips.com.
PREVIOUS STORY: Blue Bell ice cream is working with law enforcement officials and retail partners to track down a woman seen licking ice cream and then placing the container back on store shelves.
The video has gone viral, but it's not known where the incident took place or when.
Blue Bell responded to the video by saying they will attempt to identify the woman.
"This type of incident will not be tolerated. Food safety is a top priority, and we work hard to provide a safe product and maintain the highest level of confidence from our consumers."
The company says the ice cream in its containers should freeze to the lid, creating a natural seal. If anyone previously tampered with a lid, consumers would likely notice.
The video below contains language that may be offensive to some.
Blue Bell issued the following statement:
"We want to thank our consumers for alerting us to the incident this past weekend of a video posted to social media showing a Blue Bell item being tampered with. We take this issue very seriously and are currently working with law enforcement, retail partners and social media platforms.
This type of incident will not be tolerated.
Food safety is a top priority, and we work hard to provide a safe product and maintain the highest level of confidence from our consumers.
During production, our half gallons are flipped upside down and sent to a hardening room where the ice cream freezes to the lid creating a natural seal. The lids are frozen tightly to the carton. Any attempt at opening the product should be noticeable. We will continue to monitor this situation."