The goal of crisis management is simple: Minimize the loss due to a failure that already has occurred.
The first steps occur long before any crisis happens. In a comprehensive food safety risk assessment and HARPC program, a company does its best to anticipate what can go wrong and has put in place controls to prevent failures. It also should incorporate monitoring steps to detect failure quickly, train people to recognize if one has occurred and identify what corrective actions to take.
I define a failure as a situation in which a system or process has gone wrong resulting in the production of out of specification material. A crisis, on the other hand, is when that failure has the potential to cause significant loss or harm to an employee or a consumer.
Some crisis preparation steps involve assembling and maintaining an up-to-date catalog of information that includes lists of the ingredients of all products made. The catalog should also provide immediate access to formulas, names and contact info for suppliers and co-manufacturers and a list of all locations where products are shipped. It should include the names and contact information for sales managers and the local Food and Drug Administration recall coordinator.
Baking companies need to form a crisis team and train in advance to manage situations. Team members must understand their roles and responsibilities and develop a system for rapidly contacting and forming the team and identify backups in case someone cannot be reached. There will be no time to do these things once a failure has occurred. The team’s goal is to prevent a failure from becoming a crisis, if that is possible, and minimize the loss if it is not. If the failure is already out of control, then the best the team can do is to act quickly to minimize the inevitable loss.
Rapid communication enables effective action during a crisis. The first question should be, “Where is the product now?” If the defective product is still in the company’s control — in the plant, in shipping, in distribution or on a truck — it can be held to avoid delivery to the market and eliminate the risk of being purchased and consumed. Nothing moves until the company knows enough to decide if it has a crisis or not.
If the defective product is already on the market, it creates a different situation. Now the company needs to decide if a recall is necessary and, if so, define the scope of potentially defective product. Immediately notify the local F.D.A. recall coordinator by phone and then enter the information into the F.D.A. Registry online.
Avoid being overly prescriptive in defining the steps that the crisis team will take. Every crisis is different, and the team must assess the situation and take effective action quickly. Prescribing those steps in advance could cause the team to waste time on unnecessary initiatives or miss taking a crucial step that wasn’t identified. There is no substitute for critical thinking during a crisis. Be careful not to make decisions too quickly.
There is an unavoidable tradeoff between speed and accuracy with the quality and quantity of information. Not waiting for a full investigation of the failure results in decisions made without complete or reliable information. Assemble the available facts into a coherent and logical explanation of what is known, what is unknown and what the team needs to know. Facts that don’t fit are probably wrong or incomplete. When you think you know what happened, decide and act. Waiting too long could deny you the opportunity to take effective action and may increase the loss.