Egg producers in the US have certainly learnt of late what it means to deal with a crisis. While preventing every crisis scenario may be impossible, taking steps to ensure that your business can manage an incident, and continue to operate and trade through it, is essential. This requires planning and efficient business continuity management.

Effective BCM requires well-trained teams and the development of effective procedures and detailed planning for specific crisis types such as: flood, fire, loss of a key supplier, or disease outbreaks.

A good first step is to compile a risk profile of 5-12 specific crises that could affect your business and classify them in accordance to severity and likelihood. Then develop procedures for dealing with each crisis identified. Each procedure needs to be a practical tool that is easy to follow and considers: notification, escalation and communication, with an accompanying action plan for incident management and business continuity.

Training your staff, whether in immediate response procedures, or business recovery scenarios, will help ensure that if an incident occurs they are best placed to deal with it in the most effective manner.

One of the most effective ways to ensure that your team is ready to manage a crisis is to put them through their paces with an interactive simulation to check procedures, response and management. This may include evacuation procedures, communication with next of kin, press and employees, and interaction with the emergency services.

Accidents happen  

Of course, a crisis can also stem from in-house incidents. Product recalls are often due to errors, accidents and last minute changes as opposed to a complete absence of controls or procedures. It may be that a test result was delayed, or a machine broke down, or a new supplier was used prior to it having been fully approved.

How such incidents are handled is critical to determining whether a product contamination or product defect incident arises or not. The personnel involved on the production floor will be looking for a work around, a solution. How well those people are trained and their knowledge and understanding of the process and the wider business will determine the outcome of such situations. If handled correctly, then there will be no issue, but if the wrong call is made (for example to proceed with production when it should have been stopped), there may be serious ramifications.

Producing safe products is not just about having robust procedures or even about the number of certificates on the reception wall. It is more about the complete package of effective quality assurance, personnel training, internal and external auditing, good practices and management commitment. Even after all that, we still need to be prepared because as we know, accidents happen!

Malicious tampering  


Crises can also happen because of someone's deliberate actions... Malicious tampering has become a major concern for all involved in food production, distribution and retail as well as the authorities. The threat of tampering may come from almost anywhere in the supply chain. The reasons why this may happen include employee disgruntlement, personal grudge against the company or brand, extortion or a seemingly random attack.

The current economic climate means the occurrence of this type of criminal behaviour may increase. It is therefore essential that all companies implement appropriate systems to deter and detect such threats.

A sensible approach is to assess your likely exposure to such a threat and then ensure that sufficient control measures are in place to mitigate and manage the risk. These control measures include reviewing your procurement policy to ensure that:

  •  your suppliers are approved and meet your standards;
  •  distribution is protected by using and recording details of cargo seals;
  •  only authorised personnel can enter your warehouse or production facilities;
  •  product is not open to tampering at any stage; and
  •  tamper proof or tamper evident packaging is used where appropriate.

Once the risk assessment has been completed and suitable control measures put in place, develop a detailed plan for responding to and managing a threat - which is often included as part of a company's product recall procedures. This would include the requirement for maintaining maximum confidentiality; handling of incoming communications; liaison with the police; activation of the incident management team; security measures; the development of a communications strategy; and the implementation of an action plan. Ideally, the Incident Management plans and team should be tested in a robust simulated incident.

Food fraud  

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases where raw materials or basic commodities have been deliberately adulterated to fetch premium prices. In 2005 we saw the illegal presence of Sudan 1 dye in chilli powder. The result of this incident was the largest food recall in UK history.

In 2008, babies in China became ill or died when fed formula milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. Melamine was added to the milk formula to artificially inflate the reading for protein levels.

A Food Standards Agency survey into Basmati rice sold in the UK, found that only 54% of the bags labelled as such contained pure Basmati rice. All the other samples had been diluted with inferior varieties - some by more than 60%.