Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Will They Ever Serve Again? – Managing the Chipotle Crisis

By Rose Strong

With the rush of the holiday season upon us, it’s highly likely we’re going have at least one meal this month from a fast food chain restaurant.

However, if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may have heard about a recent outbreak of norovirus at Chipotle. A food-borne illness struck more than 140 people near Boston College; all had eaten at the restaurant in the Cleveland Circle neighborhood.

The fast food chain that has marketed itself as the healthier option, with non-GMO and organic ingredients sourced from local farms, has been struggling lately as several hundred customers across the country have contracted food-borne illness.

Food-borne illness can happen anywhere: a restaurant, a school cafeteria, even your own home. It can happen at any point along the supply chain, from the location where food is grown and harvested to where it is stored, processed, packaged, transported, unloaded, displayed, purchased, and cooked - and even after cooking. A simple, human error in any part of that chain can cause people to fall ill.

On the West Coast, Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 stores in November due to E. coli infections, after 17 stores were cited. The restaurant chain also has had an outbreak in Pennsylvania and several other eastern states.

How does a restaurant or food company bounce back after an outbreak of food poisoning? Some do and some don’t. Much depends on how they manage the crisis.

For the food service industry, there are four phases to responding to a crisis, according to the industry publication, Food Safety magazine. Prevention, preparation, management, and recovery are all a part of preventing food safety issues, and communicating effectively with all stakeholders if a crisis does occur.

1.    Prevention: Employing a good food safety culture, including staying current on risk factors
2.    Preparation: Proactively planning for a problem and monitoring public discussion of risk
3.    Management: Implementing the plan using multiple messages and media
4.    Recovery: Reassessing risk exposure and telling the story of changes

Clear, transparent, timely communication with all audiences is an essential part of every crisis plan for any type of business. Does your business have a crisis communications plan? If not, your first resolution for 2016 should be to draft one.

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