By Rob Masters
In an ironic twist, the theme of Australian Food Safety Week of late last year – The Danger Zone – could not have been more applicable in the last three months throughout Australia.
To name but a few, there have been –
- salmonella outbreaks in Brisbane affecting more than 200 people;
- a $25 million settlement offer by soy milk company Bonsoy to 500 victims food poisoning (perhaps the largest settlement for a food poisoning case in Australian legal history);
- Woolworths supermarket on the Gold Coast being named as the source of a dead mouse in a rice paper roll;
- approximately 200 Australian cruise ship passengers bound for New Zealand restricted to their cabins after exhibiting severe food poisoning symptoms; and
- the recall on of Nanna’s frozen mixed berries and Creative Gourmet mixed berries from the supermarket shelves following notification of Hepatitis A cases in Victoria and New South Wales.
Each year an estimated 5.4 million Australians are affected by food poisoning.
Preparedness for the management of such crises should be a high priority for anyone in the food industry. The visibility an issue can give to a company often leads to its future viability and credibility.
Unfortunately, the investment in preparedness is still neglected today. The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is typical of many companies. They pay lip service to having a crisis plan, having it tested and having it maintained for currency.
Yet in today’s multi-mediia environment, a single tweet can turn an issue into a full-blown crisis of global proportions.
The Nanna case is a typical example. It has brought into focus the quality standards of the berry industry of China and Chile (the source of Nanna’s products) along with that of the packaging processes of China.
The Australian Made campaign called for the purchase of “genuinely Aussie products”, and sectors of the horticultural industry called for greater quality controls on imported foods.
The issue also put further focus on “quality control testing” and the timeliness of activating recalls for “public safety and confidence”.
The issue here has its foundations with leading Melbourne radio commentator Neil Mitchell with his often asked question: “How long did you know about the issue before you activated the recall?”
This is a tipping point for all food related industries in a crisis.
The testing for contamination can take days or weeks, which makes the decision to recall very difficult.
Do you sit and wait for verifiable evidence, or do you do ‘the right thing’ by the community and recall; hoping you have enough crisis management skills and plans in place and ‘reputation goodwill in the bank’ to see you through.
No mater what, you are in ‘the danger zone’. (And the actual ‘danger zone’ for food where bacteria thrives is between 5C and 60C).