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The Unique Nature of Food Crises

Food safety professionals can anticipate some of the challenges unique to their industry. The first is determining the source of contamination. For example, in 2007 ConAgra responded to a Salmonella outbreak in Banquet brand frozen poultry pot pies. At first, ConAgra concluded that consumers were in fact undercooking the pot pies (Sellnow and Petrun, 2009).

Later, the company learned that in fact prescribed cooking instructions for the pot pies were incorrect. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding implied that ConAgra was simply trying to shift the blame for the contamination to consumers instead of assuming responsibility. If possible, it is helpful to anticipate who will be in charge of an initial investigation, who would need to be notified about a contamination (e.g., other industry partners, distributors, consumers), and how each of those groups could be reached.

Food illness can be difficult to identify at first and different types of information may need to be communicated at different times. Organizations will also need to work with the US Food and Drug Administration and/or the US Department of Agriculture. Recalls are usually voluntary and conducted by the manufacturing organizations, although in some instances if a company has failed to identify a contamination, recalls may be mandated. During the precrisis phase organizations should anticipate the process of both communicating with the public, reporting to regulatory agencies, and releasing internal updates and calls to action for employees.

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