Seeking to Deter Would-Be Social Media Stars, Legislator Wants to Crack Down on Ice Cream Licking

Violators would be subject to a year in state prison if they lick ice cream and then post a video, photo or description of it online, according to the legislation.

Violators would be subject to a year in state prison if they lick ice cream and then post a video, photo or description of it online, according to the legislation. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

A bill in Arizona would make it illegal for people to lick ice cream and return it to the store shelf, a response to a video that went viral last summer.

A lawmaker in Arizona wants to bolster food safety by deterring would-be lickers from contaminating ice cream, a trend that spread on social media last summer following a viral video clip.

The video, uploaded to Twitter last July, shows a teenager removing a half-gallon of Blue Bell Tin Roof ice cream from a freezer in a Texas Walmart, taking off the top, running her tongue across the ice cream, then resealing the container and replacing it on the shelf. The incident spawned copycats—including several people who were arrested—and resulted in Blue Bell removing dozens of cartons of ice cream from store shelves.

Arizona Rep. T.J. Shope told the Coolidge Examiner that he’d heard of at least one similar incident in his state, but no charges were brought because existing law didn’t specifically address the issue. Shope’s legislation, introduced in January, would change that, making it illegal to “knowingly introduce, add or mingle any bodily fluid, foreign object not intended for human consumption or unsanitary surface with any water, food, drink or other product that may be consumed by a human being.”

Violators would be subject to a class 2 misdemeanor—up to $750 in fines or four months in jail—if no one eats the contaminated product and the damage caused is less than $1,000. The penalty jumps to a class 6 felony—up to a year in state prison—if someone eats the product, the damage totals more than a thousand dollars, or if the violator “publishes a description, photograph, video or other depiction of the contamination on an internet website or provides it to another person.”

That provision takes aim directly at would-be Instagram or Twitter stars, Shope said.

“People want to become the next Instagram hero of the day,” he told the Examiner. “It gets a bunch of clicks on a day, and that makes somebody feel good, I guess.”

Ice-cream bandits are what alerted Shope to the trend, but his bill would extend protections to other venues as well, he said on Facebook.

“Yes, we should follow other states who have made the actions of viral social-media wannabees illegal in Arizona,” he wrote. “The idea of people going to a buffet/convenience store/grocery store and manipulating food in a negative manner should be a crime and my bill will make it so.”

It’s unclear what states Shope is referring to (he did not return several requests for comment). Ice-cream licking was already illegal in Texas, classified as a second-degree felony of tampering with a consumer product and punishable by up to 20—and no less than two—years in prison, along with a $10,000 fine. A lawmaker in Alabama introduced a similar bill on Tuesday, which is awaiting a hearing before a Senate committee. 

Shope’s bill on Wednesday was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a 6-4 vote and is awaiting a hearing before the Rules Committee. The legislation is supported by the Arizona Restaurant Association, the Arizona Retailers Association and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, and is opposed by Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice

Blue Bell, the Texas-based ice cream company whose product was featured in the original video, said it wasn’t familiar with the bill but generally looks favorably on legislation that tightens requirements for food safety.

“The safety of our ice cream is our highest priority, and we take tampering with our products very seriously,” the company said via email. “While we haven’t seen the details of this specific legislation, we support efforts to make consumer products safer."

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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