Healthy fast food franchise SumoSalad is working frantically to avoid a public relations disaster after one of its Sydney stores was subject to a public health alert about hepatitis A.
The NSW Ministry of Health issued the alert, warning that people who ate at SumoSalad's Kent Street store between July 11 and 26 could have been exposed to the disease.
"We urge anyone who may have been exposed to these food products to receive a hepatitis A vaccination as quickly as possible to develop some protection from developing the infection," the Ministry's alert said.
The managing director of SumoSalad, Luke Baylis told SmartCompany the incident – every food retailer's worst nightmare – was the result of a staff member who contracted hepatitis A on a holiday in Indonesia.
Upon returning to work, Baylis says the employee was feeling sick and so went and got a medical check, which identified that she had contracted hepatitis A.
"As soon as we were made aware, we removed her from the store immediately to prevent any potential contagion," Baylis says.
"There have been no customers or employees reported as infected. We had the health department audit our store and they said SumoSalad maintained the highest quality food safety standard and the risk had been fully mitigated.
"The actions we have taken over the last 24 hours have been taken as a precautionary measure only."
Baylis says SumoSalad has tried to be as transparent as possible in communicating the issue and has been working with the NSW Ministry of Health on the matter.
"It's a situation that is not created by employer negligence, but it's a situation you have to deal with as professionally and diligently as possible," he says.
"Managing communications in a timely manner is critical and being honest and open is critical.
"You need to work with necessary authorities to resolve the issue rather than working against them."
Baylis concedes the salad franchise will have to work hard to counter the inevitable brand damage that has already occurred through reports of the infection.
"We hope that our customers will look at this as a positive, but there are certain people that will take a negative approach to this and will be sceptical," says Baylis.
"This will be damaging for our brand, but we hope people will see the lengths SumoSalad has gone to in order to assure our customers' safety."
SumoSalad has organised free vaccinations for customers who think they may have potentially been infected.
"We are doing everything in our power to manage the damage of the situation," Baylis says.
"It was an isolated incident affecting only one store. We hope that our other stores aren't negatively impacted."