May 24, 2016
Frozen Food Recall Creates Consumer PR Problems
Listeria. Ask most folks what it is and what it does, and they would have a hard time explaining it. But ask them if they want it in their food, and they know full well it’s very bad. Just the mention of the word leads consumers to stop buying, much less consuming certain products. Now the outbreak scare extends to frozen food, some bought as far back as 2014.
According to the Associated Press a “massive frozen foods recall” has been initiated. The recall involves fruits and vegetables shipped to all 50 states as well as Canada and Mexico. Regulators are worried they will have a tough time getting consumers to check through their freezers, so they are tossing a fairly wide net.
The recall includes more than 400 products from Pasco, Washington-based CRF Frozen Foods. The food is sold under 40 different brand names at retailers including Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s and Safeway. According to reports, eight people have come down with Listeria, and two have died, though other illnesses contributed to their deaths.
CDC response team representative Matthew Wise told the AP: “Unquestionably, this is a lot of product. … It reflects the severity of Listeria as an illness, the long duration of illnesses and the outbreak and the long shelf life of the products…”
There is nothing in that statement that allows for much in the way of hope or does anything to assuage consumer fears. Worse, even though the CRF plant has closed, the company still can’t find the cause of the contamination. They knew which plant it came from, but they don’t know what caused it.
At this point, the only positive call to action the company has is to send concerned consumers to an online list of recalls to see if their food made the “maybe” list.
From strictly a PR perspective, keys to re-establishing consumer trust in cases such as these are quick answers and definitive decisions. You need to convince people your products are safe, and to do that, you need to show them you know what happened and how you fixed it.
In this case, the company involved doesn’t yet know what happened, and it’s likely most people won’t take the time to check the recall list. They’ll just toss out what they have and buy it somewhere else. Because of this, multiple brands and retailers have a vested interest in finding and communicating specific answers as soon as possible. Wait too long and you will give consumers time to change their buying habits for good.