Tag Archives: crisis communications

Ryan Gooley, Mock Recalls

Practice, Practice, Practice. Why Mock Recalls Are So Important

By Maria Fontanazza
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Ryan Gooley, Mock Recalls

Being recall ready goes beyond checking off the boxes for meeting traceability requirements, qualification standards, or meeting auditing requirements for certifications. “It’s really a discussion that needs to happen from a business continuity standpoint within an organization so that should there be an issue, the team has actually talked through different strategies and ways of technically executing a recall within the organization,” says Ryan Gooley, recall consultant at Stericycle ExpertSolutions. During an interactive workshop at next week’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Gooley will lead attendees through recall scenarios and help them create a recall plan to address global needs, communications strategies, resource allocation, and business continuity requirements. Gooley recently sat down with Food Safety Tech to discuss the importance of mock recalls within the food industry.

Food Safety Tech: What are the most common mistakes food companies make in preparing (or not preparing) for a recall?

Ryan Gooley: One of the mistakes companies make is not having the discussion internally about a recall and whether they are ready and able to respond to and support a recall. Although it’s becoming less of an issue, people still don’t want to talk about recalls—they’re afraid if they talk about it, it will happen to them.

They also take their industry partners, whether supply chain partners or existing vendors, for granted.

Ryan Gooley is leading a session, The Multiplier Effect: How One Ingredient Can Lead to Multiple Recalls, at the 2016  Food Safety Consortium conference  on Thursday, December 8 | Learn More In addition, companies miss the amount of effort and resources it takes to properly support a recall once a communication goes out. This specifically relates to class I or class II recalls that go down to the consumer level and involve press releases and media exposure.

In any industry, your resources are geared toward producing product and getting it into the market; it’s not the reverse of managing take-backs and returns, and communicating to customers. A lot of it comes down to resource allocation.

FST: What are the most important elements of a recall plan in the food industry?

Gooley: Traceability is huge. Most companies have a pretty good understanding of traceability as it relates to where they receive ingredients, where the ingredients go within their processes, and ultimately where they are distributed. Traceability is important, because you can’t initiate a recall if you cannot identify where the suspect product went.

The other part of the recall plan is testing the plan. Going through your recall plan and testing it pulls together the different departments that are responsible for supporting the recall exercise and effort within the company. Having conversations about who is responsible for what, the information [that should be] pulled, and who needs that information is really important for building the team. [It ensures that] should a company need to initiate a recall, the team members who are engaged and responsible have actually talked through the process and practiced. With more practice comes more efficiency and less chance for error or oversights.

Another important element of a recall plan is understanding your communication plan and communication crisis management plan. A lot of people talk about recalls as just identifying the product and notifying downstream what to stop selling, etc., but a lot of what goes into the recall plan is business strategy—how are you going to manage not only retailer and customer calls, but consumer calls and media calls? Who is responsible for communicating what, when and where? Do you notify just your impacted customer or do you notify your non-impacted customers? What type of communication and messaging do you have? When companies have not done a mock recall exercise, oftentimes they have not had these conversations, and they really struggle on the communications piece, especially because it needs to be drafted, approved, and communicated in a very short period of time.

Food Safety and Social Media Crisis Communications

What Does a Social Media Crisis Communications Plan Have to Do with Food Safety?

By Ryan Hardy
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Food Safety and Social Media Crisis Communications

No one can contest the power of social media these days. As of August 2015, there were 2.2. billion users of social networks globally, with Facebook still by far the largest social network platform, at nearly 1.5 billion active users. Even if you aren’t on Twitter or Instagram, you have most likely heard or read about topics on them through other media. The influence of social networks to reach so many people makes them perhaps the most powerful communications tool available.

When it comes to a food safety crisis—whether a product recall or a report that a consumer has found a foreign object in prepared food product—you have to assume that messages about it will show up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even YouTube. From there, it is likely to end up on TV through newscasts as well. If your company maintains silence on social media, the public is likely to assume that you have something to hide, that your company is out of touch with public concerns, or that you just don’t care.

For these reasons, it is important that your food safety program be integrated with a social media crisis communications plan. That does not mean that your food safety team has to create the plan or manage the communications. These responsibilities should fall to your designated communications and public relations personnel. But it does mean that when a food safety issue with potentially harmful effects on public health arises, your food safety team should be aware of the plan and coordinate with the public relations team in the overall response.

The Positive Side of Social Media in a Crisis

The most obvious benefits of using social networks for crisis communications are speed and the large number of people you can reach. In a situation with potential to impact a large number of people, getting accurate information out to the public quickly is important to lower the risk to public health.

Other benefits may not be as obvious. By presenting a consistent and accurate message to a broad audience, your communications can help prevent or counter misinformation. A well-crafted social media post should be clear and concise, and thus is less likely to be misunderstood. That clarity and concision may help to avoid your message being reported as a “sound bite” out of context. And your message is more likely to be transmitted and repeated accurately, as social media users can share it in full.

Studies have shown that frequent communications from a firm can increase consumers’ intentions to comply with a recall effort and, when well handled, actually enhance consumer perception of a company. Thus, a social media crisis communications plan can contribute to action on the part of consumers and to maintain your company’s reputation.

The Downside of Social Media in a Crisis

As with any communications platform, social network communications do have a downside. The social nature of the platforms means that anyone with an account can post a response, and the potential for inaccuracies and outright hostility is very real. How to respond appropriately, and when not to respond at all, takes training and experience. That is the reason that crisis communications need to be handled carefully by the communications experts in your organization.

However, even if you are not the one posting the communications, having an understanding of the plan will help you as you carry out your responsibilities as part of the coordinated response to a food safety incident.

The Basics of a Social Media Crisis Plan
Although each social media crisis communications plan should be tailored for the individual company, the following some common elements of a good plan:

  • Clear assignment of roles and responsibilities. Who should post/comment/tweet on behalf of the company? All others should avoid commenting about the situation, even if using their own accounts, to prevent confusion and promote consistency.
  • Identification of the primary social media channel to use during the crisis (and of secondary channels). For example, will you post all relevant information to the corporate website, on Twitter, or on the corporate Facebook page? Picking one channel helps control the messages and makes it possible to funnel users of other social networks to one central source.
  • Message templates. One template should be for an initial message, indicating that your company is aware of the situation and will be issuing an official statement shortly. Twitter is a good channel to use for this message, but it is also appropriate for your corporate Facebook page. It is also a good idea to include the platform you will be using as your primary channel for communications. For example, the initial message for a company intending to use Facebook as the primary social media communications channel could be “@Company is aware of the [brief description of the situation] and will be issuing an official response soon. For continuing updates, please visit our Facebook page [url].”
  • Internal contact information (including for after-hours). You should know whom to alert and how to contact them regardless of the time, and under what circumstances you should contact them. This is key information to include in your food safety plan.
  • Clear procedures and responsibility for cancelling scheduled social media posts. During a crisis, the company needs to prove that situation is their top priority. Pre-scheduled messages about products can send the wrong message.
  • Guidelines on the frequency and content of messages. For example, measures the company is undertaking and actions consumers can take to avoid the contaminated item(s) should be posted. However, prematurely stating that preliminary measures will completely address the problem should be avoided; otherwise, if you have to increase the scope of corrective measures, your company could lose consumer trust.
  • Message approval procedures. Identify any specific type of message that requires approval by senior management. However, be mindful that a lengthy approval process for all messages will defeat the purpose for communicating through social media. (That’s one reason why templates are an important part of the plan, as they can be vetted and approved ahead of time).
  • Message review procedures. On the other hand, all messages should be reviewed before being posted to verify technical accuracy and to ensure clarity and appropriateness. During a crisis situation, you must adhere to the highest standards of professionalism.
  • Procedures for coordination with regulatory agencies. In the case of a recall, the FDA, CDC and USDA post information on their consumer food safety site at FoodSafety.gov. It is critical that the information provided to these agencies is consistent with messages posted on your social network channel(s).

Coordinating Response and Communications

So what should a food safety professional do regarding a social media crisis plan? Here are some first steps to help with a coordinated response:

  1. Review your food safety procedures to see if procedures for crisis communications are included.
  2. If not, check with your corporate office to find out if there is already a social media crisis plan. Ask to see it, and then update your food safety procedures to include relevant steps to keep the designated contact information updated. If yes, be sure the information in your response plan is current.
  3. Make sure everyone is familiar with the plan and of specific roles and responsibilities. Ensure that employees are trained on what they should expect, and what they should and should not do, regarding social regarding social media during a crisis. Employees should understand that if they post information related to the crisis using their own social media accounts, it can lead to confusion and undermine efforts to protect the public health, as well as affect the company’s credibility.
  4. During a crisis, provide timely and accurate updates to the communications team as appropriate. Be sure to check the designated channels to remain aware of what the company is communicating publicly.

Can Social Listening Lead to Better Crisis Response?

Several major companies in the food industry have found that social listening—the monitoring of social networks for mention of their company and its products—can help them identify a potential problem early. If a consumer post describes finding a foreign object in a can of soda, for example, the manufacturer can quickly reach out to that person through social media to request that the individual contact the customer service department to provide details. That way, an investigation can get underway to determine the accuracy and extent of the potential issue, and the customer can have their situation addressed more quickly and appropriately.

Monitoring the company Facebook page, Twitter ID and hashtags for product names can be a component of proactive measures for averting a larger problem. Better that you find out that someone posted that they found a rat tail in their soup than for you to be blind-sided by a report about it in traditional media.

Public health agencies in New York City and Chicago are also studying the use of social media to identify potential outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in their jurisdictions. They are working to determine if searching restaurant reviews posted on Yelp can help them identify foodborne health issues that have a common source. Results suggest that online restaurant reviews might help to identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness and restaurants with deficiencies in food handling.

Don’t Wait Until a Crisis

It is better not to have to learn about the power of social media once a crisis has arisen. Having an understanding of social media’s role in communications and of how your company can use it effectively can help improve your crisis communications efforts.

If you want the public to trust what you say on social media during a food safety crisis, one of the best strategies is to build a reputation as a trustworthy source of food safety information before a crisis occurs. Consider a social campaign around food safety topics, such as how to prepare food products safely, the difference between a sell-by date, a best by date, and an expiration date, and other topics that tell the consumers that you are attuned to their concerns around food safety. If you are considered a trustworthy source of food safety information, your communications during a food safety crisis are more likely to be believed. As a result, you are more likely to be able to protect both public health and your reputation should a crisis arise.

In a future article, we will discuss specific ways to integrate a social media crisis communications plan into your food safety incident response plan.

The WDS Food Safety Team also contributed to this article.