Being prepared for the serious case

Holger K. has a problem. For a few hours now, his company, a sausage producer in Lower Saxony, has known about the suspicion that the company’s poultry sausage might be contaminated with salmonella. Authorities expect a statement from the company within two hours. Together with the hastily convened crisis team, K. sets about tracing the production and delivery route via the now known batch number of the product. In preparation for a possible product recall, it is now urgent to find out whether goods are still under the control of the company. Then they can be blocked, so that the pending product recall can be regionally limited.

There is also the question of whether a consumer inquiry from the same morning is related to the suspected product crisis. The crisis manual lying in the middle of the table has named defined procedures for this event. But the process stalls. Everyone is waiting for the liberating call from production. But with each passing minute, it becomes clearer to the crisis managers present that they have a problem here with the existing internal traceability system. A nationwide product recall is imminent, with all the associated negative consequences. Daily news instead of local paper. After a short time-out, the group decides to continue with an adjusted assumption. Time-out? Adoption? In the middle of a crisis? The managing director nods wordlessly, no sign of panic.

Preparing for an emergency

Holger K. and his colleagues are not in a real crisis situation. They have actually ordered this crisis from the consultants of crossrelations and the office of KWG Rechtsanwälte (Gummersbach/Brussels). They specialize in food law. In a crisis exercise, the aim is to check whether the procedural instructions in the company’s crisis manual correspond to operational practice. The communications consultants and the lawyers have designed a crisis scenario tailored to the company, based on real-life conditions and products. A high degree of realism is intended to underscore the seriousness of the exercise, but it also allows the players to cover familiar ground. Hardly any other area of law is as comprehensively regulated as the production and handling of food. But that also means that under the stress of a crisis, many mistakes can happen in dealing with legal requirements. Real conditions and real-time procedures are premises of such an exercise.

The aim of a crisis exercise is to test the cooperation in the crisis team, the internal company processes and the applicability and functionality of the crisis management documents. The key points of such an exercise are:

  • Development of a realistic scenario with the aid of a script based on the specifications of IFS 6 No. 5.9.4
  • development of realistic scenarios relating to the various reference groups, such as consumers, customers, authorities, NGOs and the media
  • if possible, real involvement of e.g. authorities or suppliers
  • Event control via the import of event messages via different communication channels in real time
  • Inquiries from concerned consumers are fed in via a hotline provided by crossrelations

Being well prepared minimizes the damage

In the past few years, food producers have learned a lot about product crises. They have been able to study companies that have handled a major product recall with aplomb. But even more frequently, they have seen how increased attention from authorities and consumers combined with relentless media coverage to create a situation that threatens the very existence of companies in their sector. Not infrequently, the end result of such an escalation was a high financial burden. Especially due to the product recall with the simultaneous loss of key customers. Scenarios in demand are above all accidental or deliberate product contamination with possible recall/withdrawal, blackmail, and negative media coverage of the company or products with possible damage to its reputation.

For Holger K. and his colleagues in the company’s management, the stress was worth it today. They know that in an emergency, the pressure of simultaneous requirements and also the mental strain have a far more serious effect on decision-making processes. Nevertheless: You have experienced impressively what works well and what does not work well in an emergency. An evaluation report leaves some homework that should not be worked off until the next crisis exercise. After all, the overall performance was sufficiently good to receive a certificate at the end of the exercise, with which the company can henceforth prove to customers or certification bodies that it meets the requirements of IFS 6 No. 5.9.

Are you interested in a crisis exercise for your company? Or are you looking for support in setting up a crisis management system? Then get in touch with us. We will be happy to provide you with an initial orientation meeting. You can get an initial overview on our Crisis topic page.