Incidents that compromise the safety or integrity of our food supply may have far reaching public health impacts and can devastate an entire sector.
While most food businesses already invest heavily in food safety programs, they also need to plan for the unthinkable. No business is immune to a crisis, so it is wise to be properly prepared.
Impacts of a food safety crisis
A crisis may arise as a result of a major outbreak of foodborne illness, an incident with an undeclared allergen, regulatory action, or intentional tampering. Even a food recall can negatively impact a business.
These events may have a significant economic impact – resulting in a loss of sales, destruction of product, adverse media/social media exposure, temporary or permanent closure, increased scrutiny by regulators, and prosecution and lawsuits.
They may also have long term effects on consumer confidence, create issues with market access, and ultimately challenge the viability of a business.
In 2022, the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) recently completed a recall study with the goal of better understanding the business and financial impacts product recalls have on the fresh produce industry. See the result of the survey.
What does crisis management involve?
Crisis management planning starts with the establishment of a crisis management team. The team comprises personnel required to manage the crisis, from senior management to production personnel, as well as communication experts. Often external communication expertise is engaged.
The next task is to identify all possible crisis scenarios, followed by the preparation of responses and procedures to deal with these situations – ensuring the business is prepared to take prompt action to manage sudden and unexpected incidents.
Components of a crisis management plan
The plan establishes roles and responsibilities as well as the circumstances that would trigger the coming together of the crisis management team.
There are various configurations for crisis management plans, but all contain essential elements including: risk assessment, an activation protocol, a chain of command, action plans, and internal and external communication programs. They also address resource requirements, staff training, and a post-incident review process.
The plan can be divided into three phases:
- Pre-crisis planning
- Crisis response
- Post-crisis recovery
Exercises which regularly practice crisis scenarios immerse the team in the realities of a crisis and reinforce an up-to-date crisis management plan. They ensure awareness of potential and evolving threats, guide strategies to diminish their impact, and drive a roadmap for recovery.
Crisis management plan
- What could go wrong?
- What is the risk to consumers, community, our team, and the brand?
- Who needs to be on the crisis team?
- What experts need to be involved?
- Who needs to be informed – what is the communication plan?
- How do we minimise business disruption and resume operations?
Strategic and effective communication can assist a business during a crisis. It requires experience in handling the media, good judgement, and authority. Poor communication can have damaging effects on a business and undermine consumer confidence.
Communication is best handled by partnering with media expertise and responding quickly, honestly, transparently, and co-operatively to manage a crisis. The key is to be up-front, authentic, and accessible.
The goal of food businesses is that they are not exposed by a crisis or incident that damages their reputation. A comprehensive and action-oriented crisis management plan supports businesses to weather such a storm with decreased consequences.
Failure to plan is both careless and inexcusable.
IFPA Recall Services
We are here to support you in the event of a food safety-related crisis, and also provide many member-only services to help IFPA members plan for a recall.
Recall Plan Review
The Recall Ready team of experts will review your current plan and provide a detailed report with suggestions to maximize your preparation for the unexpected.
Custom Recall Plan
Don’t have a recall plan? We’ll help you create a plan that’s tailored for your company. Our team will work with your company to write a custom recall plan that reflects your company’s unique structure and operations. When finished, you will have a complete recall plan with regulatory, food safety and communication elements that fit the company. And, when we work together to develop a custom plan, we’ll include future discounts on legal and communication services.
Executive Management Workshop
We know your management team is busy, and leaving the office to attend our regular Recall Ready workshop may be difficult. So let us bring our workshop to your managers. Our Recall Ready team will travel to your company and provide a full-day workshop designed for you and your management team. Managers will learn how to prepare for a recall, the company’s legal responsibilities during a recall, how to determine if a recall is necessary and how to work together to carry one out. And in a table-top exercise based on your company, its products and its production processes, your management team will experience the recall decision making process. Designed for 15-20 people, this option allows your entire team to receive the benefits of our recall ready workshop without having to leave the office.
Annual Maintenance Program
Your company has already developed a sound recall plan and tested it using our Recall Ready training and simulation option. Now protect your investment and keep your team recall ready with our annual maintenance program. Twelve to eighteen months after the company’s last Recall Ready simulation; we will retest your team and the plan with another simulation. We’ll also review your plan and suggest updates, if necessary. Don’t let time erode your preparedness level – stay recall ready.
Attention All Associations
Include the Recall Ready Team in your member training and education program. We will work with you to design a commodity-specific recall ready offering that meets your members’ needs. Call us for more information and pricing.
Onsite Recall Training and Simulation
You don’t want an actual recall to be a training exercise. Get ahead of the game with a two-day mock recall program led by the IFPA Recall Ready team. We’ll come to your office and train your team to use your recall plan under pressure and run a simulated recall to help you test your plan before the real thing.
Coombs (2015). The value of communication during a crisis: Insights from strategic communication research. Business Horizons, 58, 141-148
Wilson et al. (2017). A model for (re)building consumer trust in the food system. Health Promotion International, 32, 988-1000
This is a general guide and does not comprise or replace technical or legal advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information. Links to website are provided as a service and do not constitute endorsement. IFPA accepts no liability arising from, or connected to, or loss due to any reliance on this document.