Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Michigan responds to positive STEC test (and doesn’t blame consumers)

In response to Tuesday’s reports of 1,200 gallons of cider testing positive for Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, Uncle John’s Cider Mill called it “the worst thing that has ever happened to us as a family business in 45 years.”

Uncle John’s Old Fashioned Apple CiderThey wrote:

Today when pondering what to post, we have two topics: test results or our gratitude. Most important to us today is our gratitude. Yesterday we were faced with the worst thing that has ever happened to us as a family business in 45 years. Our staff, friends and family all stepped up to help. They didn’t have to, but they did.

As we took the time to read our Facebook posts last night, our eyes swelled with tears over the support of the community and our loyal customers. …”

In a separate statement on the company’s website, Uncle John’s said they are working closely with the MDARD to find the cause of the positive E. coli test. As of now, no illnesses have been reported. Shiga-toxin producing E. coli was picked up by a “routine, random” sample collected by an MDARD inspector. 

Uncle Jonh’s opened as a cider mill in 1970 and is just north of Lansing on the way to Mount Pleasant on U.S. 127. 

Where were you the last 25 years? Andrew & Williamson donates to STOP

As the number of people sick with Salmonella from Mexican cucumbers continues to climb – 3 deaths, 671 people sick with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona, an increase of 113 cases since the last CDC update on September 22 — the U.S. distributor has donated to a non-profit group’s campaign aimed at improving foodborne disease diagnosis and it urged other produce companies to do the same.

cucumbersSan Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce partner David Murray said in a Sept. 25 statement, that the firm is “absolutely devastated” by the outbreak and is working with authorities in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as food-safety experts, to analyze its processes and fix any problems.

“On a personal note, in reading information about the illnesses, it was clear that many doctors need additional guidance to ensure the timely diagnosis and treatment of foodborne illnesses,” he said. “With that in mind, we will be making a donation to STOP Foodborne Illness, a non-profit organization devoted to assisting those impacted by foodborne illness.”

“This donation is in support of STOP’s efforts to create an educational packet about foodborne illness to send to every pediatric emergency room and hospital in the U.S. so that patients receive a timely diagnosis and proper treatment.

While we recognize that our actions cannot alleviate the pain caused by a victim’s suffering or worse, the loss of a loved one, the A&W family promises you that we will learn from this experience. We will never forget what happened. And you can rest assured that our food safety decisions will forever be influenced by the memory of consumers who have been impacted by this recall.”

Blue Bell and fairytales about crisis communication

Despite the angst surrounding Blue Bell Creameries’ well-publicized listeria outbreak, one thing is clear: Blue Bell has practiced stellar crisis communications.


The company has been honest, transparent and accountable, qualities which have placed it in the best possible position to rebound from this crisis.


Overwhelmingly, public response on Twitter has been positive. As one commenter put it: “I don’t think media quite understand the emotional attachment Texans feel for #BlueBell.”

I’m not sure the families of the three dead in Kansas would agree.

David Sommer, the Charles E. Cheever chair of risk management at St. Mary’s University said Blue Bell’s initial response has not been ideal, adding, “The multiple and expanding recalls kept the company in the news for six weeks. It’s important to get the facts out as soon as possible. A company must be seen as proactive, not reactive.”

Blue Bell has set up a toll-free telephone number for consumers to call with questions. It is 866-608-3940, according to its website. The Blue Bell website also has a statement from CEO and President Paul Kruse, dated April 20, that explains the company’s safety and testing steps that are now underway.

“The company will have to start a significant advertising campaign,” Sommer said. “It must have humility about its mistakes, apologize to its customers and add assurances that it won’t happen again.

“People want to know the company feels regret and is making assurances it won’t happen again.”

And to do that, with all the increased Listeria testing, make the results publicly available.

It is embarrassing and deadly: Blue Bell working to get past Listeria contamination scare

Blue Bell Creameries will survive the crisis caused by a recent recall of products prompted by a finding of bacterial contamination in some of its products, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of money, experts said.

blue.bell.creameriesThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month that three people in Texas had the same strain of listeria bacteria linked to some Blue Bell ice cream products previously found in five others at a Wichita, Kansas, hospital. Three of the five in Kansas died. That prompted the first recall in the family-owned creamery’s 108-year history, and some major retail and customer clients pulled all Blue Bell products from their offerings until they could be assured those products were safe.

Consultant Gene Grabowski, who has been a “crisis guru” to food manufacturers in about 150 recalls, has been advising the Brenham, Texas-based creamery, the Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/1EXjk6R ) reported. Blue Bell, he said, has worked around the clock since the listeria concerns arose to identify and correct any contamination sources.

“This company cares more about the health and well-being of consumers than any company I’ve ever worked for,” he told the newspaper. “This is a company that’ always trying to do the right thing. This has been embarrassing for the family.”

Crisis? What Crisis: Texas meat company remains silent on E. coli-related beef recall

I don’t know why a little-known Fort Worth meat company that recalled nearly 16,000 pounds of beef would want to hurt its image, but saying nothing is a bad strategy – one that even big firms do routinely.

Sometimes it makes sense, because there’s nothing to say, and platitudes make things worse, but when you’re listed as the PR contact as PFP Enterprises President Jim Piep is, 96_supertramp_crisisdeclining to comment just raises suspicion.

It’s OK to say you don’t know. It’s a simple playbook: this is what we know, this is what we don’t know, this is what we’re doing to find out more.

According to a report in the Star-Ledger, USDA cannot compel a private company to respond to media requests for information.

PFP’s registered agent is Lucas Melott, who is chief financial officer of a Dallas meat company named Patterson Food Processors. Melott declined to say whether the two firms are related or answer other questions.

Charles Sanger of Charleston\Orwig, said in a recent report that companies too often “default to a bunker mentality” to wait out the media storm.

“This can be a critical, if not fatal, error, particularly in the 21st century communications landscape in which we all operate,” he said. “This all is magnified in the food system, where issues often are related to food safety and take the form of recalls of food products, at times with associated risks to human health,” Sanger wrote.

Lesson in crisis communication: Painful norovirus infected 75 people at Victoria conference

Barf happens, and the newly converted are quick to cite lessons learned, but the challenge remains – how to get people to pay attention before the outbreak happens?

The Vancouver Sun reports the final two dozen university conference delegates left Victoria on Tuesday after days of battling a painful norovirus outbreak that is believed to have infected about 75 people.

About 370 delegates arrived in the city for a national Canadian University Press conference on Jan. 11.

The journalism convention quickly made national headlines on Sunday morning after the virus rapidly spread throughout the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites where they all stayed.

Those who were not infected — and some who were — made their way home Sunday, while the rest stayed an extra night or two waiting for their symptoms of vomiting, severe stomach pains and diarrhea to pass.

A shuttle bus took about 13 delegates to the Victoria Airport Tuesday morning with another five or six following them in the afternoon, according to university press staff.

Some students were reporting getting sick during their travels home and some even after they arrived. But with the worst behind them, delegates got back to classes and work.

“If anything, this entire conference, this entire situation, has been a lesson for us in terms of crisis communication,” said Emma Godmere, the CUP national bureau chief, who became a co-ordinator of all communication as information was sent out via Twitter.

Powell: Irish government did the right thing recalling dioxin-laden pork products

Friday we took baby Sorenne to her first pediatrician’s appointment. Everything was cool, we went and got some groceries, and on the way home a reporter from the Times of London rang me up. He wanted to chat about dioxin in feed in Ireland and had actually found a technical report me and a couple of students wrote almost a decade ago about dioxin in Belgian feed.

Indeed, I was the same person, oops, hang on a sec, removed the car seat from car, then chatted for about 20 minutes as I trugged the groceries up the hill.

The stories are running Sunday morning in London and my quotes are an excellent example of baby brain: some of the right words are there, but much of what I said comes across as gibberish. Nevertheless, the stories provide an excellent overview of the dioxin-in-Irish-feed crisis.

In the central science laboratory in York last Saturday, scientist Martin Rose stared in disbelief at his dioxin detector. He had injected a sample of Irish animal feed into the machine, and the results had gone off the scale. The level of toxic contamination was at least 5,000 times the legal limit.

Rose knew there was some urgency about the analysis. The Irish authorities had asked the laboratory team to work over the weekend to get test results in a few days; normally it would take four weeks.

At 3.40pm on Saturday last, Alan Reilly, deputy chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), was given the bad news. He called Brian Cowen and outlined the grim scenario. While only 8% of Irish pork was contaminated, it could not be isolated quickly.

Every minute that the taoiseach dallied, consumers were eating dioxin-laden Irish meat. How much damage that might be doing to people’s health was not known. Nevertheless, Cowen made his decision almost immediately. Aware of the damage it would do to Ireland’s pork industry, he ordered a full recall of all pork products from September 1.

“I actually can’t believe this decision is even being questioned,” said the FSAI’s Reilly. “I’m astonished by the people saying that we shouldn’t have ordered a recall. If we had left that meat on the shelves, leaving people to eat contaminated product, we would have been lambasted for being irresponsible, and in all probability we’d be out of our jobs.

Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University, said off-the-scale readings from the feed justified the action.

“When you get those kind of numbers the response should be ‘let’s pull everything.’ If the public perceive that the authorities knew there was a risk and didn’t do anything, then they’d be crucified. From a crisis-management point of view it’s clear they did the right thing. Compare that with [the similar contamination crisis in] Belgium and we see the mess that came out of that.” …

The International Food Safety Network’s Powell believes that the government’s policy of annual testing is insufficient. “One test a year is only a snapshot. How do you know what they are doing the other 364 days?” he said. “We talk ‘farm to fork’ food safety all the time, but are the guys making the feed taking it seriously? We need to get a culture where the manufacturer is saying ‘we can’t mess this up’ rather than waiting for somebody to catch you. Everybody needs to have a culture of food safety. The marketplace can be brutal but that’s why we need to change attitudes.” …

According to Powell, the way forward is to change the culture that led to the crisis. “There will be a stigma associated with the product for a while,” he said. “The marketplace is going to demand better. Supermarkets will want to know what is going into the feed of their pigs. The producers and the processors can’t just say they have testing in place; they’ve got to prove it.”

Below is the abstract from the technical report we produced on the dioxin in Belgian feed crisis of 1999. The entire report is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/articledetails.php?a=3&c=9&sc=64&id=316

In the spring of 1999, dioxin was introduced into the Belgian food supply, including exports, via contaminated animal fat used in animal feeds supplied to Belgian, French and Dutch farms. Hens, pigs and cattle ate the contaminated feed and high levels of dioxin were found in meat products as well as eggs. What followed was yet another European food safety scandal filled with drama and public outcry. There were government investigations, the removal and destruction of tons of eggs and meat products and huge economic losses. The case study of this incident reported here illustrates how the crisis unfolded, and evaluates how the Belgian government managed and communicated this crisis, based on publicly available documentation. The government’s major error, based on the unfolding public discussion of the events, was a perceived failure to publicly acknowledge the crisis, resulting in accusations of a self-serving cover-up. The government’s poor crisis management and communication strategy became the focus of intense public and media criticism and blame. Moreover, the significant issue of poor quality control in the food and feed industries was pushed to the sideline. Not only was the reputation of the food supply tarnished but public confidence in the government was damaged, leading to the resignations of two cabinet ministers and the ousting of the ruling party in a national election. This study confirms the basic components required to manage food-related stigma:

• effective and rapid surveillance systems;

• effective communication about the nature of risk;

• a credible, open and responsive regulatory system;

• demonstrable efforts to reduce levels of uncertainty and risk; and,

• evidence that actions match words.