Victorian cheese manufacturer Jindi Cheese has bunkered down into crisis management mode after it was revealed a Victorian man and a Tasmanian man had died from listeria infection and a NSW woman miscarried.
The number of cases of listeria infection recorded nationally rose to 18 last week and a link to batches of Jindi manufactured cheeses sold at delicatessens and supermarkets has been identified, although Jindi has not been directly linked to the deaths and miscarriage.
Victoria’s acting Chief Health Officer, Dr Michael Ackland, said in a statement health department officials had visited the Jindi factory in Jindivick and were satisfied that appropriate food processing, hygiene and monitoring practices were being followed.
“However, as a precaution the company demonstrated its commitment to the health and wellbeing of its customers by implementing a voluntary recall of cheeses manufactured up to and including January 6,” Ackland said.
“On January 7 it implemented an even stricter regime of product testing and quality control, which Jindi is confident will ensure that all cheeses it sells are safe and free of bacterial contamination.”
Symptoms of listeria infection can take up to 70 days to appear and so although the first cases were identified in December, further cases continue to emerge.
The listeria outbreak is a nightmare for Jindi, which was recently sold for $20 million to French dairy giant Lactalis.
SmartCompany contacted Jindi for comment but no response was available prior to publication.
However, Ross Campbell, principal and chief executive of RCA Crisis Management, told SmartCompany that Jindi has so far done a good job in managing the food safety crisis.
Campbell identified three lessons for businesses from Jindi’s approach:
1. Have a crisis management plan
Campbell says Jindi appears to have a strong crisis management plan which enabled them to recall products quickly.
“It really goes back to their product recall process and how that is escalated to manage a crisis: once the product is identified they have to confirm the threat, analyse the complaints or issues and work through the extent of scope or problem about the volume of distribution,” Campbell says.
“Early identification of the risk to health and safety was obviously rapid and the actions they took indicate they did have a crisis management team in place, as Jindi communicated with stakeholders like retailers quite quickly.”
2. Work with regulators
Campbell says crisis management has to be carefully co-ordinated and communicated with any regulators, in Jindi’s case the Victorian Health Department.
“It has to be linked impeccably with the regulator, and sometimes businesses take a while to do that, but in this case Jindi moved quickly,” he says.
3. Be transparent
Jindi’s transparency and open approach in handling the crisis will assist the business in recovering from the listeria outbreak, according to Campbell.
He says Jindi will have to deal with short-term recovery as well as long-term brand concerns.
“If you are upfront and show your processes and investigations and clearly indicate how you deal with it you can regain market share,” Campbell says.
“It will take a little while, people will look at the brand and wonder for a while but if they can relaunch their brand with clarity on how their recovery processes have worked, I think it will work well for them.”
Campbell says he believes Jindi will recover from the crisis as the public has been well informed as to how the incident occurred and Jindi has had strong support from experts in the field.