Planning for produce disaster: Mock outbreak proves valuable

Tim York, CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative, writes in The Packer’s Centerplate column that last month as we responded to a mock crisis drill testing our ability to react to, in this case, a potential food safety hazard.

lettuceAn edited version appears below.

Our crisis team dropped business as usual that afternoon and focused on implementing our crisis response plan.

The team leaped into action, setting up a makeshift “war room.” Checklists were examined, to-do lists created, and responses prepared for media and all stakeholders.

While it was a drill, the energy was palpable and the exercise proved a valuable reminder of the importance of not only having a crisis response plan but also practicing execution of that plan.

While the spinach crisis of 2006 has been talked about extensively, we must not forget the valuable lessons learned.

Most of the industry was woefully unprepared for the 2006 FDA alert “do not eat spinach.”

We knew we needed to recall the spinach that was in the supply chain, but then realized that spring mix and other items also contained spinach. The crisis rapidly got out of hand, and the industry was left scrambling.

Today, at Markon, we are much better prepared, as are many throughout the industry. We have a robust crisis plan and are well-versed in it and ready to use it. If you don’t, I highly recommend this become a priority.

Values should drive all decisions. A core value for us is People Matter. Remembering our core values can be great guidance when we aren’t certain what actions to take. For example, in the event the FDA or the supplier does not call for a recall, we may still want to act based on our core value.

Social media can be like a wildfire, and someone needs to be responsible for monitoring social media websites and responding accordingly. This means having a firm understanding of the social media space, including appropriate rules of engagement. Having a social media response guide is a critical piece to any modern crisis response plan.

And while checklists are an important part of any crisis response, we must — as an industry — remember that food safety is about more than limiting liability. It’s about people.