No matter how sophisticated a manufacturing and quality system may be, problems or failures occur. Crisis management programs are an essential element for organizations today.

Core Team
Ideally, crisis management teams ideally at plant operations should include a senior company executive, possibly the president, and representatives from each group involved in the manufacture, distribution, sales, marketing and public relations aspects of the business. Information on how each individual may be contacted at any hour should be available. This access is important as crises do not observe regular hours. People must be available to make decisions and take prompt action.

Every team member should understand his or her function on the team prior to a crisis. Sorting it out when action is required can cause delay and compromise the response.

Communication is a critical part of managing a food safety crisis. This includes receiving, evaluating and disseminating information both internally and externally. The plan requires direction and instruction on how information should be processed and to whom it should be distributed.

Handling a Crisis
1. Identify the problem
This may seem self-evident, but there have been cases where food safety investigations were not sufficiently comprehensive or thorough, and the crisis was unnecessarily prolonged or caused greater damage.

2. Locate the cause or source of the problem
This is essential in evaluating the action which needs to be taken to respond and correct the situation.

3. Determine the scope of the problem
This is important in deciding on a corrective action plan. If the problem is or can be isolated, the matter may be handled promptly. If it is widespread, the crisis management team can be challenged significantly and the resources required to correct the problem may be substantial.

4. Understand the risk presented by the problem
This is critical. If there is no risk to public health, the problem will not raise to the level of concern where it would be if a serious illness or death could result. Crisis need to be distinguished. An accurate risk evaluation is essential to the effective management of a problem.

5. Implement corrective action
This requires the input of the entire team. Failure to respond properly can cause serious problems for a company such as lawsuits and regulatory actions.

The response needs to include a proper communication to the various interested parties. The following groups need to be considered in preparing communications:

  • Consumers
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Government agencies
  • Media

Not only is it necessary to take action to prevent a recurrence by identifying the problem but also to evaluate the operation of the crisis management team and make changes if necessary.

6. Post-crisis evaluation
Through a highly organized crisis communication plan, companies can effectively respond to a problem, exercise some control over it and, consequently, limit its impact.

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