Key Considerations for Your Food Safety Crisis Management Plan

In order to effectively challenge your Crisis Management Plan, you must have a crisis management plan that’s tailored to the specifics of your food facility. Before we dive into the food industry and challenge portion, let’s review the basics of a general crisis management plan:

  • Establish a crisis management team (with contact information)
  • Draft a list of stakeholders who will need to be communicated with 
  • Highlight the types of risks and responses necessary 
  • Define a process for talking with the staff, customers, and media
  • A response action plan that’s readily available for on-site team/s to access in case of an emergency
  • Designated spokesperson to handle any media communications

Crisis Management Plan Example for Food Manufacturing

For a food industry facility, train and have resources created to fit the needs of each of the following steps for your crisis management plan:

  1. Risk Analysis: What are all the possible risks that may happen at your facility?
  2. Urgency Protocol: After understanding the risks, what is the urgency of response for each risk?
  3. Chain of Command and Command Center: Who is the key person for each crisis
  4. Response Action: What is the decided response for each crisis? Who will need to be reached? Employees, vendors, suppliers, regulatory agencies, consumers, etc
  5. Internal and External Communication: How do employees communicate to each other and to the world about the crisis?

Challenging Your Risks  
Have you thought of all the possible risks for your organization? The obvious ones everyone immediately thinks of:

  • Food Safety Outbreak
  • Natural disasters like Fire, Flood, Tornado, Earthquake, etc. (depending on location)

Others that are less obvious would be far more difficult for staff to manage and should be added because they could potentially spur media frenzies:

  • What would you do if the CEO dies?
  • What would you do if an executive kills another executive?
  • What would you do if an employee/s killed multiple employees?
  • What would you do if an employee purposefully tampers with the products to do harm to clients?

Obviously, you do not need to think of every possible terrible crisis scenario, but the more you think about these the better prepared you will be.

What is the Urgency Level of Each Type of Crisis?  

Not every crisis will need an immediate response. For instance, your facility caught fire…well, maybe it was a small fire and only one room or offices were slightly damaged. The person who is responsible may want to send out an email to clients that sketches out the relevant details, and underscores that “while we are still assessing the damage, we may/will be up and running again within a day or so. We’ll keep you up to date.” Was there a crisis? Yes!  Is it a killer to the business? No!

OK, maybe the CEO died suddenly. It’s terrible, of course. But hopefully, the CEO has a management plan that creates depth within the organization, and the interim CEO can communicate effectively the succession plan. 

Who Manages Each Crisis? 
After the gruesome task of thinking and writing down every possible crisis scenario you and your team can think of and the urgency of the crisis, the next obvious brainstorm is to decide who is responsible for each category of crisis. This is not just putting a name into an Excel spreadsheet and calling it good. Each person needs to take the responsibility of practicing the processes of the potential crisis consistently. When a crisis happens, the response is more like muscle memory and not an OH CRAP! WHAT DO I DO NOW?!? moment.

OH CRAP! WHAT DO I DO NOW?!?  
Yes, this all too human response needs to be planned and thought through right down to meticulous detail before a crisis occurs. Humans in fight or flight mode can make very bad decisions and say really stupid things. It’s not worth the risk.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS!!! 

Communication to staff, media, customers, suppliers, etc. Of all the tasks in your crisis management plan, practicing communication protocols with staff may be the most important. One person saying one thing to the one wrong person could be astronomically detrimental!  You want to lock communication down whenever a crisis occurs. Having templates created for each person and each type of crisis may go a LONG way. For instance, a template for sales to customers, buyers to suppliers, PR and/or CEO to media, etc. What you want to communicate immediately to every possible vested interest, should be planned, written, trained, and practiced. Make these steps a priority for your facility’s crisis management plan and team, and your business will be prepared for almost any crisis that might arise in the future.

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