Food Recall Plan: How to Communicate with the Public and Recover from a Recall

In the wake of a food recall, brand image is on your mind — and you may be frantically searching for solutions to keep that image intact. A recall is alarming to your customers, and it has the potential to jeopardize their trust in your brand. Just know that you CAN recover from a food recall event and maintain a positive relationship with the public. The key is smart, effective communication.  

Your brand is the collective representation of your company, and when a recall occurs, people can lose faith in its integrity. Often, news of a recall hits the public in an aggressive, damaging way. Nonetheless, you have the power to take control of your messaging and show customers what your brand really stands for. To do so successfully, you’ll need to implement a sound strategic approach. Use the following tips to help strengthen your post-recall communications and safeguard your brand.

Be Prepared (But Also Be Quick)

We can probably all agree that it’s never a good idea to react to a food recall with snap decisions or communicate with the public before you have a chance to prepare. Take the time to ensure that you’re fully apprised on the details, the legal implications and your compliance obligations. Rely on well-documented data and information to support your strategy and messaging, as this is the best way to maintain credibility and communicate from a position of strength.

You’ll want to identify both your customer base (including distributors, vendors and the public) and your communication channels. How will you get your message out there? What mediums will you use? Carefully outline your plan of action and consider how you’ll relay explicit information for retailers and consumers, what will be involved in collecting and eliminating the returned food and what steps the public should take to ensure their health and redeem any compensation. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration provides guidance on how to release a statement properly, with details on outlining the affected products, describing the problem, articulating the depth of the recall and delivering recall instructions.

Keep in mind, however, that time is of the essence. The longer a company waits to deal with a recall and communicate with the public, the more complications they’re apt to experience — and the more costly the entire ordeal is likely to be. It’s better to release information on your own terms than to let news outlets speculate about the incident and cause greater damage to your brand. Take advantage of the opportunity to get full, fact-based information out there right away. This communication tactic is powerful in terms of preserving the integrity of your brand.   

Build a Response Team

Managing a food recall and communicating with the public can feel like a daunting undertaking, one that involves multiple departments, processes and coordinated efforts, and that often requires a specialized skill. With your brand on the line, it’s best to build a robust response team that has the required experience and knowledge to tackle your company’s post-recall needs swiftly and effectively.

Consider partnering with a team of trained investigators, advisers and attorneys with relevant experience in food recall management, and collaborate with a reputable public relations firm. Ensure that you have a team of experts and reliable responders to handle responsibilities like:

  • Releasing statements
  • Posting website descriptions and photos
  • Delivering instructions on product disposal and return
  • Informing on public health issues
  • Responding to social media activity and call center surges
  • Supplying advice on complex recall matters
  • Providing effective legal, financial and reputational solutions to minimize damage

Be Honest and Forthright

The less focus you place on forthright communication of your food safety approach and recall response plans, the more challenging brand recovery is going to be. In today’s fast-moving social media and news cycles, the message of accountability and the promise of corrective action is essential to restore consumer trust. Nurture that trust with an earnest effort to be honest and forthcoming.    

The best way to approach social media in response to a recall is to be highly active. Monitor your own and outside channels, and proactively respond to the communication being shared. Use these outlets as a way to deliver straightforward, helpful information and to address emerging concerns directly, before they spiral into more complex brand problems. Particularly during this time, it will be important to keep careful records of everything your company does and send status updates to the appropriate government agencies. Work with your team to develop candid, helpful notifications to necessary stakeholders, including regulatory agencies, customers, distribution centers and consumers.

Take Responsibility

There’s no need to place blame in a recall situation, nor is this recommended as a viable communication tactic. Try to avoid assigning culpability to outside parties. The most respectable option is to accept accountability, offer a sincere apology and calmly reassure consumers that the issue is being handled and will never happen again. The CEO can even hold a press conference or televised interview in order to make a personal connection with the public.

Taking responsibility also means showing consumers how you plan to prevent future occurrences. Communicate the plans your company intends to implement in areas such as:

  • Supporting a strong culture of food safety with the execution of ongoing awareness, training and education efforts organization-wide
  • Eliminating outdated, manual food safety processes and adopting a smart software solution that promotes visibility, accuracy and efficiency
  • Updating your HARPC to accommodate emergent employee and equipment sanitation hazards, new ingredients that may pose allergen risks, ineffective control measures and preventive controls, actual versus documented production flow processes and changes to compliance requirements or industry standards
  • Developing a dynamic documentation and reporting process to routinely evaluate testing and prevention activities
  • Initiating comprehensive, prevention-based controls across the food supply to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of problems occurring
  • Instituting a verification process to ensure that foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place

Yes, recalls happen. In fact, with the food safety landscape shifting toward a more proactive, preventive approach, they’re apt to happen much more frequently. Even so, you don’t have to lose control or sacrifice your brand. The way you communicate a food recall has the power to impact your brand more than the recall itself. Take advantage of these expert insights to carry out a successful communication plan that enables your brand to recover from a food recall in the most dignified, professional and trustworthy way.

To get more valuable guidance on navigating the challenges of a food recall, access your free Food Recall Prevention Kit.

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