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  • Q&A: Crisis Management with Margaret Speich

    By USDEC Staff June 10, 2014


    A food safety scare is no longer confined to a state or region. It becomes news everywhere around the world a company is doing business. 

    Margaret Speich is USDEC’s senior vice president, strategic and industry communications. In this Q&A, Speich answers questions about the importance of traceability in a food safety plan.

    Q: Ten months after a 2013 botulism false alarm, China still prohibits New Zealand whey protein concentrate (WPC), and the country’s primary dairy exporter, Fonterra Co-operative Group, is still trying to repair its reputation. What is the biggest lesson for U.S. dairy suppliers?

    MS: There are multiple lessons for U.S. suppliers from the botulism incident, but the overarching message revolves around globalization. A food safety issue is no longer confined to a U.S. state or region, it becomes news everywhere a company is doing business overseas and everywhere it might be seeking to expand business. In addition, it can spread worldwide in a mat­ter of hours—or even minutes—through social media and the Internet.

    Q: What could New Zealand have done differently?

    MS: One of the findings of multiple New Zealand investigations found that Fonterra initially failed to “join the dots” between the severity of Clostridium botulinum, the fact that the suspect product was being used in infant foods, heightened consumer sensitivities to food safety and the company’s global reputation.

    Those sensitivities are all too evident now. It has taken years to build the U.S. reputation for quality and commitment to international dairy markets. The Clostridium botulinum scare showed how quickly a reputation could be eroded.

    Q: How does traceability fit into the food safety equation?

    MS: New Zealand found that Fonterra’s inability to promptly and definitively track the destinations of the suspected batches of WPC escalated the problem. Subsequently, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all announced efforts to upgrade their respective trace­ability systems to immediately rule out a product from a contamination scare. Enhanced traceability is critical to give major global food and beverage manufacturers a degree of comfort about the ability of various national milk pools to support and assist them should real or perceived problems arise. Dairy buyers expect suppliers to have a traceability plan in place.

    Q: Where does U.S. participation in implementing enhanced traceability stand?

    MS: The United States is well advanced on the road to upgrading its traceability system. The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®, established under the leadership of America’s dairy farmers through the checkoff, and a group of industry representatives researched and analyzed U.S. dairy traceability for nearly two years before publishing enhanced traceability guidelines last September. The guidelines are voluntary, and so far, 17 U.S. companies representing about 68 percent of the U.S. milk supply have committed to them.

    Q: What can U.S. dairy suppliers do to ensure they are well prepared for a crisis?

    MS: Good crisis management stems from good crisis preparedness. Although Fonterra had a crisis manage­ment plan in place, the co-op’s independent inquiry noted that better preparation, including holding credible and frequent simulation exercises, would have made “a substantial difference” in the incident’s severity.

    DMI’s 2014 Dairy Industry Food Safety Crisis Drills, Aug. 27-28 in Columbus, Ohio, and Nov. 19-20 in Dallas, give U.S. companies a chance to evaluate crisis preparedness during a realistic crisis drill scenario. Participants will get to test their traceability systems, experience how social media can shape public perception and industry response—and how a company or organization can contribute to the conversation—and identify areas for improvement.

    Participation in the drills is one of the best ways for a company to strengthen its crisis preparedness.

    (This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of Export Profile.)

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.   



    Member Services Traceability New Zealand Crisis Management
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