FSA steps up the battle against food crime – good news for preventing a media crisis

The last few years have seen numerous instances where an act of food crime or fraud has caused a major media crisis. Horse gate and mislabelling of allergens being two of the more high profile cases.

avoiding a media crisisA major media crisis like this can have disastrous consequences for brand reputation not to mention the more serious implications on food safety. It is no wonder then that the National Food Crime Unit is trying to nip food fraud in the bud with the introduction of its new ‘Food Crime Confidential’ whistleblowing service.

The Food Standards Agency’s crime unit was set up in the wake of the horse meat scandal to avoid the repeat of a crisis of that magnitude. It suggests that food crime can involve dishonesty at any stage of production or supply of food.

The unit’s research suggests at least 20 known organised crime groups had links to the food industry. With the complex supply chains food brands now work with, the potential for criminal behaviour is prevalent to brands and retailers of all shapes and sizes.

As with many of those brands which suffered at the hands of the horse gate scandal, often the media crisis that ensues takes no notice of who was actually at fault, how much brands really knew about what was going on or even which products were affected by the crime at all.

So what can brands do to protect themselves from being the unwitting victims of a major crime related media crisis?

The answer is simple. It is absolutely essential for food manufacturers or retailers of all sizes to have a clear and robust crisis communications strategy.

Once your product is out there and available to consumers you’re instantly at risk of being embroiled in a food fraud crisis. This is regardless of how transparent and traceable you think your supply chain is. Let’s not forget – most of those brands implicated in the horse meat scandal purchased their ingredients from reputable suppliers in good faith.

Businesses should be ready for all eventualities with a detailed plan of action which is communicated across the business on what to do in the event of a media crises. This, along with media training with key spokespeople and creating pre-prepared holding statements covering every possible issue, means brands put themselves in the best possible position to deal with arising issues and minimising the impact on brand reputation.

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