Tag Archives: crisis management

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Would Your Team Know How to Handle a Crisis?

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

In 1993, Jack in the Box put foodborne illnesses and food safety “on the map” when their undercooked burgers led to an E. coli outbreak that infected more than 700 people. 171 people were hospitalized and four children died.

Don’t miss the Plenary Discussion on Crisis Management at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreUnfortunately, this infamous outbreak wasn’t an isolated incident. Foodborne illness outbreaks are on the rise in the United States. The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.

A string of unprecedented outbreaks at Chipotle occurred at multiple locations, beginning in 2015. Recently, there was widespread concern when romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli was shipped, served and sold at restaurants, stores and institutions nationwide. Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 7-Eleven customers at a Utah location were exposed to hepatitis A due to an infected employee who worked (and handled the convenience store’s food) while sick. The state’s local health department announced that anyone who used the restrooms, drank a fountain drink, ate fresh fruit or any item from the store’s hot food case was at risk for infection from the highly contagious illness.

Keep in mind that a crisis isn’t necessarily a foodborne illness. Think about other unexpected crises that could impact your organization, staff and customers, like natural disasters (hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, etc.) What if there’s a robbery, shooting or bombing at your venue? What if a guest chokes and dies? Perhaps there’s an unexpected power outage or a fire? Yes, unfortunately, these are all real possibilities.

If a crisis were to occur at your establishment, would your team know what to do?

As the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It’s extremely important to be prepared for every type of crisis imaginable—before anything bad actually happens.

When developing a crisis plan, consider and implement the following:

  • Form a crisis management team. Assign roles and responsibilities. Ensure all designated crisis team members understand what’s expected of them in the event of a crisis. For most food businesses, the crisis team will consist of a corporate attorney, company leadership, food safety team, crisis management consultant, a public relations expert, a trained media spokesperson and applicable government agencies.
  • Know how your local health department operates. The role of the local health department varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so get to know your local inspectors. Work with your regulatory agencies, who will want to help.
  • Create honest, authentic and apologetic messaging. This will, of course, need to be developed to meet the specifics of your situation. Regardless of what happened, honestly describe the situation and explain the solutions-focused plan you’ve created to move forward. Transparency is important, otherwise key audiences (customers, employees, media, investors, advertisers, etc.) will lose confidence and trust in your company.
  • Work with the media to disseminate information about the incident. The media want to report what has happened, and it’s in your best interest to be straightforward with them. If there was a breakdown in your process, identify it, whether you received tainted merchandise from a vendor or experienced an error in the kitchen. Explain the concrete steps you’re taking to fix it and prevent a reoccurrence (e.g., selecting different vendors, re-training your staff, adjusting your food allergy protocols, etc.).
  • Train (or re-train) your staff on food safety protocols. Be certain that everyone is knowledgeable about food safety (e.g., how to prevent cross-contamination, how to properly prepare allergy-friendly meals, how to cook foods to proper temperatures, etc.) to avoid similar crisis situations in the future.
  • Use social media wisely. Monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and respond to negative and/or erroneous comments. Messages on social media (as well as in real life) should always be positive, professional and honest. Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals.
  • Communicate with your customers, employees and other key stakeholders to win back their trust. Be honest, sincere and apologetic. Explain how/why their loyalty is so important to you, and vow to earn their trust again.
  • Change vendors, if necessary. Did a vendor mislabel ingredients, causing an allergic reaction in one of your guests? Did they source tainted products and sell them to you? Change vendors, and be clear in your communications (to media, via social media platforms, etc.) that you identified the vendor as the source of the problem, explaining that you’ve cut ties to them to eliminate similar events in the future.
  • Thank the responders that helped. Perhaps your crisis wasn’t a foodborne illness –it was a customer dying of natural causes, a bomb threat, a weather emergency, or an electrical fire. Use the media and social media platforms to thank the police, fire department and/or paramedics—whichever responders helped defuse the situation.
  • Designate a media spokesperson. When facing a serious crisis, your restaurant’s CEO/owner/president should be the spokesperson. The public wants the head of the company to speak authoritatively about the incident and the concrete plans to resolve the problem. Practice your messages before going in front of the cameras, anticipate the most challenging questions you may receive, and determine how you’ll respond professionally, politely and non-defensively.
  • Stay calm. While it’s upsetting (and terrifying!) to be in a crisis situation, remain calm as you work to recover from the incident. Follow your crisis plan and communicate your key messages. Make certain that important audiences (including customers, prospects, employees, the media, vendors, health inspectors, etc.) recognize how hard you’re working to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Debrief after the crisis is over. Regardless of what happened and the severity of the situation, after any kind of incident, get the crisis management team together and debrief. Review your plan and see if there is any room for improvement.

It is critical to have a plan established just in case a crisis occurs. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s always wise to be prepared. A crisis can hit any business at any time—how well you handle the situation could make a monumental difference in the court of public opinion.

Janice Buchanon, Steritech
FST Soapbox

Is Food Safety Part of Your Crisis Management Plan?

By Janice Buchanon
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Janice Buchanon, Steritech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.

A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation

A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.

In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.

  • Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
  • A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
  • If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.

Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:

  • A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
  • A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
  • A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
  • A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
  • A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
  • A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
  • A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
  • A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
  • Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination

Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.

What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory

Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:

  • Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
  • Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
  • Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
  • Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
  • Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
  • Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed

What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner

Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?

  • A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
  • A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
  • A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down

Why Now?

Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.

  • Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
  • Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
  • Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
  • Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.

Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.

Vulnerability assessment

Protecting Food Against Intentional Adulteration: The Vulnerability Assessment (Part One)

By Debby L. Newslow
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Vulnerability assessment

FDA, as part of FSMA, released its rule titled “Protecting Food Against Intentional Adulteration” on May 27, 2016. This rule was proposed in 2013. FDA received and responded to 200+ comments prior to its final release.

FDA states that this rule “is aimed at preventing intentional adulteration from acts intended to cause wide-scale harm to public health, including acts of terrorism targeting the food supply. Such acts, while not likely to occur, could cause illness, death, [and] economic disruption of the food supply absent mitigation strategies.”1

The rule requires a documented “Food Defense Plan” that at a minimum includes the following:

  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Mitigation strategies
  • Procedures for food defense monitoring
  • Food defense corrective action procedures
  • Food defense verification procedures
  • Records confirming implementation, maintenance and conformance to the defined requirements
  • Evidence of effective training

As a food safety professional with more than 30 years in the industry, reviewing this rule brought back many memories. These memories combined with information gained from a recently completed Food Defense/ Crisis Management workshop presented by Rod Wheeler really set my brain into motion.2

Years ago, industry focused on crisis management and product recall. Requirements included having a crisis management team that was led by associates representing both upper and middle management. In addition, most programs included the following:

  • Posted identification of the crisis management team (i.e., pictures, phone numbers, etc.)
  • Specific training for receptionist and guards
  • Mock crisis exercises (i.e., fire drills)
  • Planned crisis calls to the operation’s direct incoming phone numbers (i.e., receptionist and guards)
  • Mock recalls (from supplier through finished product and distribution)
  • Security inspections which may now be considered the pre-cursor to today’s “Vulnerability Assessment”

With the introduction of the GFSI approved schemes (FSSC 22000, BRC, SQF, GlobalG.A.P., Primus, etc.), requirements for crisis management, emergency preparedness, security programs, food defense training and continuity planning gained an increase focus. Do any or all of these programs meet the requirement for a “vulnerability assessment”?

In the 2013 publication, Food Safety Management Programs, this subject-matter chapter was titled “Security, Food Defense, Biovigilance, and Bioterrorism (chapter 14)”.3 An organization must identify the focus/requirements that are necessary for its operation. This decision may relate to many different parameters, including the organization’s size, design, location, food sectors represented, basic GMPs, contractor and visitor communication/access, traceability, receiving, and any other PRP programs related to ensuring the safety of your product and your facility. Requirements must be defined and associates educated to ensure that everyone has a strong and effective understanding of the requirements and what to do if a situation or event happens.

Confirming the security of a facility has always been a critical operational requirement. Many audits have been performed that included the following management statement: “Yes, of course, all the doors are locked. Security is achieved through key cards or limited distribution of door keys, thus no unwanted intruder can access our building.” This statement reminds me of a preliminary assessment that I did not too long after the shootings at a Pennsylvania manufacturer in September of 2010. The organization’s representor and myself were walking the external parameter of a food manufacturer at approximately 7:30 PM (still daylight). We found two doors (one in shipping and one accessing the main office), with the inside door latch taped so that the doors were not secure. The tape was not readily evident. The doorknob itself was locked, but a simple pull on knob opened the door. Our investigation found that a shipping office associate was waiting for his significant other to bring his dinner and was afraid that he would not be at his desk when she arrived. An office associate admitted that that door had been fixed to pull open without requiring a key several months earlier because associates frequently forgot their keys and could not gain access to start work.

Debby Newslow Debby Newslow will present ” Sanitary Transportation for Human & Animal Food – Meeting the new FDA Requirements” at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference  | June 5–6, 2017 | Attend in Rockville, MD or via webcast | LEARN MORE

We also observed a large overhead door adjacent to the boiler room along the street side of the facility open, allowing direct access to the processing area by passing through the boiler room and then the maintenance shop. It was stated that the door had been opened earlier in the day waiting for the delivery of new equipment. No one at the time knew the status of the shipment or why the door was still open.

Finding open access to facilities is becoming more and more common. A formal vulnerability assessment is not necessary to identify unsecured doors (24/7) in our facilities. Education and due diligence are excellent tools for this purpose.

Another frequently identified weakness is with organization’s visitor and contractor sign-in prerequisite programs. What type of “vulnerability” are we creating for ourselves (false confidence) with these programs? Frequently these programs provide more questions than answers:

  • Does everyone really sign in?
  • What does signing the visitor log mean?
  • Are visitors required to show identification?
  • Are the IDs actually reviewed and if so, what does this review include?
  • Who is monitoring visitors and contractors and are they trained?
  • Do all contractors have to sign the log or are they allowed to access the building at different locations?
  • Do those contractors who make frequent or regular trips have their own badges and/or keys (keycards) so they don’t have to take the time to sign-in (i.e., pest control, uniform supplier vending services)?
  • How are contractor badges controlled?
  • Are visitors required to be accompanied during the visit or does it depend on the visitor and whom they are visiting?
  • Are visitors and contractors trained in company requirements?
  • Do visitors and contractors have an identifying item to alert your associates of their status (i.e., visitor badge, visitor name badge, specifically colored bump cap, colored smock, etc.)?
  • How are truck drivers monitored? Do they have a secured room for them or do they have complete access to the facility to access the restrooms and breakroom?
  • How are terminated associates or associates that have voluntarily left the company controlled?
    • Can these associates continue to access the facility with keys, access cards, or just through other associates (i.e., friends or associates that did not know that they were no longer an employee)?
  • How many more questions can there be?

Continue to page 2 below

Steps to Avoid a Food Crisis

By Maria Fontanazza
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Part two of Food Safety Tech’s interview with Alan Baumfalk, lead auditor and technical manager for Eurofins food safety systems, discusses how companies can reduce their chances of having a food crisis. “Sometimes we forget that part of our crisis management team is part of food defense,” says Baumfalk.

Food Safety Tech: Can you discuss the importance of the food defense plan within crisis management?

Alan Baumfalk: We need to defend the product within our facility, and we need to determine as part of the food defense plan the methods that we’re going to implement to prevent adulteration of product.

We need to step up and watch this: The process literally travels from farm to fork; from the crop through processing through distribution and to the final consumer. As part of our food defense plan we need to protect sensitive processing points from intentional adulteration, and we must watch for potential accidental adulteration.

It is important to carefully control the activities in the plant. Part of that involves limiting employee, subcontractor and visitor access to production equipment, manufacturing, and storage areas by designating access points.

These steps can help to eliminate issues involved in causing a crisis:

  • Secure the storage of raw materials, packaging equipment and hazardous chemicals
  •  Control all chemicals within the facility, because they can be used to deliberately or accidentally contaminate food.
  •  Hold finished products in secure storage.
  •  Control transportation. Apply seals to the full truckload.
  •  Monitor all points of distribution.