A food born outbreak occurs and one of the crops you grow and pack has been implicated. Of course you know it could never be from your farm or facility because you do everything you are suppose to do and, bottom-line, it could never happen to you. But a couple of days later you get a phone call from the Food and Drug Administration stating they have traced the implicated produce and you are one of 10 farms and facilities on which they are focusing their investigations. Fifteen minutes later, while you are still in disbelief, you receive a phone call from MSNBC asking if the allegation that your farm has been implicated in the FDA outbreak investigation is true. That is followed by a phone call from Fox News, ABC Nightly News, WALB in Albany, the Tifton Gazette, Atlanta Journal Constitution and a host of other media outlets.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP?
Of course if you attended the Crisis Preparedness Workshops in Vidalia or Tifton you would have a good starting point of what your next step would be. Sahlman Williams Public Relations Firm conducted the workshops this past February with additional commentary from Vidalia Onion Committee’s Wendy Brannen, and GFVGA’s Charles Hall and Beth Bland. The Sahlman Williams firm was instrumental to the Florida tomato industry during this past summer’s Salmonella fiasco.
It was told the first thing anyone should do in the above situation is take a deep breath and then call the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association for help. Attendees, consisting of farmers, packers, brokers, shippers and other trade association members, learned the most important thing we could do as an individual or industry was to have one unified message. Conflicting messages and stories feed the sensationalism that many media outlets seem to thrive on.
After participants were given some basic information on creating a crisis management plan and how to deal with a crisis, they were taken given a crisis simulation exercise. Teams were divided into ‘companies’ and given information about a food born outbreak involving their farm or facility. The question was then posed, ‘What are you going to do?’ After a few minutes, a little more information was given about the scenario and the question was asked again, ‘What are you going to do?’ Many attendees stated this exercise really opened their eyes and made them start thinking about what they would really do in that instance. The Crisis Simulation was followed by some valuable Media Training of what to do and what not to do.
Through funds awarded by the state block grant, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association was able to sponsor these Crisis Preparedness Workshops. The crisis management tools that all GFVGA members will be receiving by mail are 1) a business card-sized Food Safety Card with GFVGA contact information in the event of a crisis as well as 2) a Media Guidelines sheet with tips on how to deal with the media.
Reprinted with permission from Beth Bland, Food Safety Program Coordinator, Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association