E. coli, Taco Bell and the nightmare that everyone who serves food faces

December 7, 2006

In crisis management we look at crisis vulnerabilities. Taco Bell in the New York area just experienced a nightmare that faces almost everyone in the food business: an E. coli outbreak.

The news (here as reported in a Bulldog report)  focuses on how quickly Taco Bell was able to re-open all but one of the nine stores they closed after more than 25 confirmed cases of the illness were discovered. This is good news from a crisis management perspective–interesting too because it appears the investigation is still going on.

The question for the millions of food suppliers who could experience an E. coli outbreak, is how prepared are you to communicate. This story got on the front page of the NYT. Potentially thousands of customers, including critical customers in distribution chains could be greatly affected if food you produce, process, distribute or deliver to consumers is suspected (not even proven, but suspected) of being infected. That means that everyone of these people need to be prepared to deal with the instant news world or face the consequences of failure to communicate quickly and accurately.

My brother is the manager of a regional county fair. Everyone of the people in leadership in fairs across the country worry about E. coli, in part because of the high level of potential exposure of children to animal feces. Plus all the food eaten at fairs. But, are regional and local fairs adequately prepared to deal with both the media scrutiny and the flood of fair visitors who will hit their websites and be expecting direct information from them? Their future may very well depend on that preparation.

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