• The Acheson Group

The Critical Aspects of Preparedness in Weathering Crises and Recalls


COVID-19 has certainly challenged the food industry – but the industry has answered in force. During the second quarter of 2020 (the height of the pandemic), the industry experienced the fewest food recalls due to bacterial contamination in more than a decade. As reported in the Stericycle Expert Solutions Recall Insights Report for Q2, bacterial contamination was the cause of 13 recalls – down from 36 events in the first quarter. However, as we have learned recently with the implication of onions and peaches in Salmonella illness for the first time, large and unexpected recalls can still happen.

In addition to citing statistics, the report included some interesting notes:

  • Despite recalls being down, “unsafe food” headlines seem to have increased, with many questioning the safety aspects of FDA’s reduced labeling requirements, the number of COVID positives in meat workers, etc. And those often-unfounded headlines are fueling consumer fear.

  • At the same time, the report sees COVID-19 not as a threat to food safety, but as having a lasting impact – having “bolstered the culture of cleanliness”; and causing companies to respond to both significant crises and small infractions more quickly and decisively.

With September being named both National Preparedness Month (as declared by the Department of Homeland Security) and National Food Safety Education Month (as declared by the CDC), the report is extremely timely, especially with its added discussion on crisis response. It is a company’s response to any crisis that is critical to its business. Citing a study by marketing professor Stefan Hock, the report states that “crisis response must align with the degree of severity of a product recall”; that over-compensating customers in a recall can actually have negative consequences and damage the company’s reputation.

While flexibility and agility have been essential in dealing with the unexpected issues of COVID-19, it has been the companies that invested in crisis preparedness and management that have been able to best weather the pandemic. As the report states, “Companies that have a crisis management mindset, actively preparing for and mitigating various threats and risks to their product and brand, are reaping the benefit of the culture they built and the investments they made.” Their preparedness enabled them to be proactive in safeguarding the food supply and their workers, while those who were less focused on crisis planning “found it exponentially more difficult to respond.”

While that preparedness certainly gave companies a leg up against COVID-19, TAG has seen that leading companies also quickly learned that the unprecedented times made it critical to think beyond the way things had always been done and adjust their policies, practices, and even their preparedness plans, to fit.

Interestingly, the Stericycle report also found that executives are calling on outside experts “without thinking twice” for support on issues that they previously would have tried to handle on their own. Not only has that outreach helped with their pandemic response, it “helps with everything from recall effectiveness rates to corrective action implementation.”

Though TAG obviously has skin in the game, we could not agree more! Reaching out to experts to assist in crisis and recall management is simply good business. This is particularly true when dealing with issues your company has not before faced – and doesn’t it seem that a crisis or recall always has aspects that are unlike anything experienced before?

TAG can help. With our extensive experience and range of expertise, TAG can assist you in assessing your existing or developing an effective recall or crisis management plan. Give us a call today!

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