Crisis management in the food Industry

Around 200 people attended the Issues and Crisis Management in the Food Industry conference hosted by the NSW Food Authority in Sydney at the start of June.

Three master classes, held on day one, each attracted around 40 people.

California’s Global Business Continuity Consortium’s Norm Meier led a full day session on preparing an emergency management plan.

Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University in Malibu chair of the communication division, Professor Robert Chandler, challenged participants to create and deliver more effective risk messages, explaining how people process information differently in a crisis.

Sydney based Savesky Consulting’s Sonia Savesky led a session on managing the media in a crisis, describing the process from a media perspective.

There followed two days of concentrated information from over 30 speakers which challenged participants to consider the possibly catastrophic repercussions of responding inadequately to a food crisis. They examined how to prepare for such an event, and how to respond, manage and recover from it.

A detailed look at recent case studies included the foot and mouth disease and bluetongue outbreaks in the UK, the Mars chocolate bar scare, equine influenza outbreak and dioxins in Sydney Harbour, and E coli contamination in spinach in late 2006 in USA. Incidents like the Garibaldi food poisoning outbreak in Adelaide in 1995 have far reaching impacts and can even devastate an entire product sector. Delegates were urged to have not only a product and business crisis plan, but also an industry crisis plan.

However much effort is put into vital prevention, speakers stressed that all food businesses still needed to plan thoroughly for the unthinkable. There was consensus among speakers that failure to plan or poor planning would be widely viewed by legislators, the justice system and the general population as negligent and indefensible.

Plan, prepare and practice were key concepts, with delegates urged to go beyond just the plan, and work out the logistics of responding to a crisis down to fine level detail. Several presenters amply demonstrated the danger of complacency. Strong partnerships were seen as critical to achieve good outcomes.

A media panel was particularly enlightening, giving participants a realistic take on how media reacts when they get wind of a crisis. Panelists urged organisations to treat the media as a partner in managing a crisis, and to respond quickly, co-operatively and honestly. The key advice was — don’t hide, be up-front, accessible and honest.

The need for a “bulletproof” communication strategy was often mentioned as an integral part of a good crisis plan.

For further information contact:

NSW Food Authority

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