E. coli Crisis Management in Canada

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    Second outbreak in as many months from Cardinal Meat Specialists

    As if the beef industry wasn’t in enough trouble with the entire horsemeat debacle, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed that two people have contracted food poisoning, caused by E. coli, after eating frozen beef burgers.

    The company responsible for manufacturing the burgers, Cardinal Meat Specialists, has recalled all products that were on the line that day, and according to reports is cooperating fully with authorities. Normally a single recall is not a major problem for manufacturers, provided they handle things well, but this is Cardinal’s second E. coli scare since December and that complicates things a bit.

    A sleeping watchdog?

    Now, it is possible for microorganisms to sneak their way into raw product, even with proper safety and handling procedures in place, but the fact that two batches of tainted meat went out within as many months is bound to put a negative tint on public perception of not only the producer, but also the organization that is supposed to be overseeing them, namely the CFIA.

    The watchdog agency was criticized heavily for not demanding a recall until several people had fallen ill in the December Cardinal E. coli crisis, and another tainted batch of burgers coming out of the same facility so soon leads the public to believe, whether it’s true or not, that the CFIA isn’t doing its job. If the CFIA wants to avoid taking heavy, long-term reputation damage in the court of public opinion, then it has to put in the effort required to absolutely guarantee Cardinal is clear to produce safe product.

    No comment

    At the time of this writing the recall has grabbed quite a bit of news coverage, but looking through the Cardinal website we can’t find a single mention of the current situation. Their news section proudly touts the results of the December investigation (no fault found), and has an article on new plants, as well as plans to expand into the U.S., so why no word on the latest issue?

    There is really no excuse to not be THE primary source of information on any crisis that centers around your organization. A bit of brainstorming, some careful construction of messaging, and 30 minutes of work from a webmaster is all it takes to publish an informative statement with easily-findable link right there on your existing website.

    Frankly, not doing this is fast going the way of saying “no comment,” ie. it is far more detrimental to your reputation than getting out there and spilling the facts.

    One of our favorite sayings is, “in the absence of communication, rumor and innuendo will fill the gap,” and that damaging rumor and innuendo finds a hole faster than ever given the incredible speed and volume of ‘net communication today.

    When it’s clearly crisis management time, step up and start communicating. There’s no excuse not to.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]