Communication is never enough, merge with assessment and management: Listeria update from Jenis CEO

I’ve always seen risk communication and crisis communication as the same thing.

riskThe lens may be magnified in a crisis, but without the basics, it’s bound to fail.

And communication can only succeed with effective risk assessment and management.

So while I commend Jenis CEO John Lowe for the proactive steps they’ve taken now that they found Listeria in their ice cream, were they looking before?

That’s not mentioned in the PR.

And no one can ensure 100% safe.

Tell customers your testing regime, tell customers what you do to prevent Listeria (and who are these world-class experts? Adjectives don’t mean much).

The all-hands-on-deck Listeria eradication effort continues at our production kitchen. World-class experts and our team are working together to ensure we get it all, finally and forever.

We are destroying more than 535,000 pounds (265 tons) of ice cream. That is 15 semi-truck loads or more than 300 pallets. We estimate that this recall will cost the company more than $2.5 million. The vast majority of the ice cream, if not all, will be taken to an anaerobic digester that will convert the dairy into electricity and a clean, natural soil fertilizer.

We have since tested a number of pints and buckets. While all of our buckets and the vast majority of pints tested negative, Listeria was found in a pint of The Buckeye State ice cream (5-082-265), and Listeria might be present in other flavors as well. So let me be unmistakably clear: no one should be eating any of Jeni’s frozen products.

riskman-cycleOur suppliers have jumped in and reacted to this as all of us would want. I’m particularly proud of Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate, who immediately had his facility and chocolate tested (all results showed no presence of Listeria), and of Smith’s Dairy in Orrville, Ohio who has always tested our milk and cream for Listeria before delivering it to us and who has jumped in to help us in our time of need. Beyond that, so many partners have reached out with offers of support. And members of our team are beginning to work with a few of our top partners to help us begin to get back on our feet.

In a time of crisis you learn a lot about the quality of the team you play on. Across our company there has been focus and commitment—a rising to the challenge that makes me more proud than ever to be a part of Team Jeni’s. From watching Jeni Britton Bauer dive in with fellow dairy experts to find the root problem, to our fulfillment team scrambling to our Columbus airport vending machines to ensure no one might buy Jeni’s after the recall, these have been a moving few days.

Team Jeni’s is made up of about 575 people. We have taken steps to provide partial pay for team members who are missing work as a result of the temporary closure: 25% for employees in our scoop shops, most of whom are part-time, and 50% for our kitchen employees, almost all of whom are full-time. We are maintaining health benefits. We have slashed budgets and spending in every way conceivable in an effort to avoid layoffs while we try to subsist without revenue, face the very meaningful costs of the recall, and determine just how long our production kitchen will be down.

While we have been working hard to complete the work that needs to be done, it has been impossible for us to ignore the amazing level of support we have felt. It feels woefully insufficient to say it, but, thank you.

Finally, let me reiterate: we will not make or serve ice cream again until we can ensure it is 100% safe. Until we know more about reopening, we are going to continue to keep our heads down and to work hard to get this issue resolved. But know this: you’ll be hearing from us soon.


Going public: Federal officials told of Listeria several days before Jeni’s recall

Federal health officials were notified about Listeria contamination in a sample of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream more than a week before the company voluntarily recalled all of its products.

public.healthThe U.S. Food & Drug Administration learned about the contaminated ice cream on April 15, the same day a sample tested by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture came back as positive for Listeria monocytogenes Type 1.

Nebraska officials randomly tested several brands of ice cream on April 2nd that was bought at a Whole Foods in Lincoln.

On April 16th, the day after being notified by Nebraska officials about the tainted ice cream, federal health inspectors sent a second sample to an FDA lab in Denver for further testing and confirmation.

On April 21 that sample came back as positive for listeria, and two days later Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams announced a voluntary recall of all of its products and temporarily closed all of its scoop shops until officials said all of their products were 100% safe. They announced their decision despite no reports of anyone becoming ill from the recalled products.

The FDA notified Jeni’s corporate offices about the discovered listeria contamination, but the FDA and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams have not provided the date of that notification.

The sampling by Nebraska officials was “non-routine.” Like Ohio, food safety inspectors in Nebraska do not normally sample ice cream.

“However, NDA staff had discussed increasing the number of ice cream and artisan cheese testing they conduct,” said Christin Kamm, NDA public information officer, “and this sampling was part of the outcome of that discussion.”

Listeria in ice cream: Tell consumers testing plans, make results public

Chapman and I made this other road trip, in 2002, where we stayed at a B&B in Gippsland, Australia, saw a bad Pink Floyd cover band in Melbourne, went to New Zealand for work (and to see his girlfriend) and then back to Sydney for ANZAC day. had no idea what ANZAC day was back then.

I have a better idea now.

The campaign at Gallipoli in World War 1, was the first major battle undertaken in the war by Australia and New Zealand, and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries.

On Saturday, 6-year-old Sorenne walked with classmates to the local memorial, and we talked about war, and what we were walking for.

But praying or keeping fingers crossed is not going to prevent war, any more that it’s going to prevent Listeria in ice cream.

And so Chapman and I were reunited – in print – half-a-world apart.

With another recall of ice cream announced Friday over fears of listeria contamination – the third in four months – consumers are wondering whether it’s safe to indulge in their favorite summer treat.

There have been three major ice cream recalls for listeria contamination in recent months, starting with Snoqualmie Ice Cream, a Washington state company that issued a voluntary recall in December for all its products produced from Jan. 1, 2014, until Dec. 21, 2014. At least two illnesses have been linked to Snoqualmie’s recalled products.

On Monday, Blue Bell Creameries recalled all of its products currently on the market, which include ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks. At least 10 people have been sickened by Blue Bell products contaminated with listeria in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Three people died in Kansas.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams on Friday announced a voluntary recall of all ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets and ice cream sandwiches. Jeni’s isn’t aware of any reports of illness to date.

“We see listeria associated with lots of other foods out there, and now we’ve added ice cream to the list,” said Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety in Canada and the U.S. who publishes barfblog, a food safety blog.

Listeria can be killed with heat, but not cold.

“Listeria grows slowly at refrigeration temperatures and it persists in frozen foods,” said Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

Food safety experts Powell and Chapman said it’s safe to eat ice cream.

Kate Connors, a spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said Friday that she didn’t know of any plans to add ice cream to the list of foods pregnant women should avoid eating.

Consumers should toss any products affected by the recalls, but listeria is so rare that it simply doesn’t make sense to get rid of all the frozen treats in your fridge, said Powell.

“I don’t think there’s a big cause for worry,” he said, “but I do think it’s incumbent on the companies to do the proper testing and to make it public if they want to not only maintain but ensure consumer trust.”

What I meant by that was, hey, ice cream folks, tell us lowly consumers what testing you do, make those results public, and market food safety at retail.