When CNN is on the line, it is too late to prepare for handling the media during a food safety recall crisis involving meat and poultry products. Tips for dealing with the media in the event of a meat and poultry products recall were presented by Eric Mittenthal, vice president, public affairs, North American Meat Institute (NAMI), at the 2015 International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE).

First of all, closing up shop and not offering information about the food safety recall is by far the worst thing you could do. With that said, what else should you do?

>> Be prepared for the media. Today is the time to think through possible poultry products crisis scenarios and how you will handle them. Have a plan, and develop a checklist of what is to be done, by whom and in what order in your organization. Once the crisis hits, it is important to immediately prepare a list of questions the media may ask and practice answering them. It’s a good idea to practice on camera, Mittenthal advised.

>> Be human and caring in your media communications. “You want to be showing your human side and your caring and action. You want to make sure that consumers know how they can protect themselves. You need to be speaking in an understandable way. You don’t necessarily want to be talking about your HACCP plans and things like that. People don’t understand the jargon, so you want to make sure that you are boiling things down in a way that the public understands,” he said.

>> Be positive and responsive. Your initial response sets the tone for the crisis coverage. If you respond in a positive way and tell your story effectively, it makes a difference. You want to show that you are being a leader in responding to the crisis. “When the news is bad, it is very important to not be defensive. You want to focus on what the problem is – how you are going to fix it and what the corrective actions are that can help you make sure you are doing the right thing at the company for the customers and the general public,” he said.

>> Use three messages in media communications. It is important to communicate the following key messages in a food safety recall of meat and poultry products:

  • The company is making sure the product is removed from commerce.
  • It is doing thorough inspection of the plant to determine sources of contamination.
  • Specific steps are being taken to ensure the problem does not reoccur.

>> Stay organized in your handling of the media by doing the following things:

  • Set up a media triage system (deal with the most important issues and media outlets first).
  • Task someone with monitoring and connecting with the media.
  • Provide updates to media at regular intervals.
  • Talk to your customers.
  • Adjust the messaging based on feedback from consumers, the media and customers.

>> Use a variety of channels in your media communications. Your company’s website is the key media communication vehicle during the food safety recall crisis, but use press releases, email, blogs, fact sheets, hotlines and social media.

>> Show commitment to fixing the problem. “You don’t necessarily have to have all of the answers, but you have to show commitment to fixing the problem and that you are taking steps to do the right thing and protect the public,” Mittenthal said.   

“Certainly, it is nerve-racking. Those of us who are professionals still get nervous when we have a big media interview. That’s where media training comes in. There’s no escaping the nerves when dealing with the media. But making sure that you are prepared and having the right messages can ease the nerves a bit,” he concluded.