Cantaloupe III: Blame and Punishment

 

This is the third and final blog about Jensen Farm and Cantaloupe Outbreak.  This case shows just how serious a food recall/food safety crisis can be.

October 20, 2011

Cantaloupe III:  Finding Blame

As of October 18, 2011, the listeria outbreak in 26 states had been linked to 25 deaths and 123 people being infected.  Of course the number of infected is probably much higher because food-borne illnesses are unusually underreported because people think it might just be the flu.  The fallout from the investigation is starting to become clearer.  As anticipated in an earlier blog, the cantaloupe industry is feeling the effects of the outbreak not just Jensen Farms the source of the outbreak.  Consumers have begun to fear cantaloupe and are avoiding eating it.  Growers in the Rocky Ford area of Colorado have seen the clearest sense of guilt by association.  Jensen Farms used the name Rocky Ford for its cantaloupes even though the farm is 90 miles from the area.  People here Rocky Ford and think dangerous melons.  And the crisis could linger, as one news story reported:  “Eric Hanagan, a farmer in the Rocky Ford region, fears cantaloupe sales will drop next year and plans to plant about 50 percent less, replacing it with a lower-income crop like corn. Still, he said he wasn’t angry at Jensen Farms.”  

Farmers in California and Arizona are feeling the effects of dropping sales as stores pull cantaloupe regardless of its origin.  Stores simply believe customers are too afraid to buy the fruit.  Here is one description of the situation facing California growers:

“On an October day in the midst of harvest season, two farmworkers sat idly in their home in a Central California town that touts itself as ‘the cantaloupe center of the world.’

Instead of picking the melons and supervising a work crew, Dora and David Elias of Mendota were unemployed—laid off along with hundreds of others as the cantaloupe listeria outbreak traced to Colorado rippled across the nation.

The pangs were particularly felt here in the top cantaloupe-producing state. Sales of California cantaloupes plummeted, even though their fruit was perfectly safe to eat. Farmers abandoned fields. Farmworkers lost jobs.

‘We can’t sell the fruit,’ said Rodney Van Bebber, sales manager for Mendota-based Pappas Produce Company. ‘Retail stores are taking cantaloupes off the shelves, and growers are disking in their fruit because people are afraid to eat them.’”

The news has not improved for Jensen Farms either.  The initial report from the Food and Drug Administration points to sanitation issues at the farm.  When people here there was lack sanitation, they will begin to place greater blame for the crisis on the people operating Jensen Farms even though there are not specific violations of regulations.  Here is the FDA preliminary statement that appeared online and in news stories:

FDA Publishes Report on Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Fresh, Whole Cantaloupe Implicated in the Multi-State Listeria monocytogenes Foodborne Illness Outbreak

On October 19, 2011, FDA released a document which provides an overview of factors that potentially contributed to the contamination of fresh, whole cantaloupe with the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, which was implicated in a 2011 multi-state outbreak of listeriosis. In early September 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health departments, began to investigate a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis. Early in the investigation, cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in the southwest region of Colorado were implicated in the outbreak. 

On September 10, 2011, FDA, along with Colorado state officials, conducted an inspection at Jensen Farms during which FDA collected multiple samples, including whole cantaloupes and environmental (non-product) samples from within the facility, for laboratory culturing to identify the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 39 environmental samples collected from within the facility, 13 were confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from three of the four outbreak strains collected from affected patients. Cantaloupe collected from the firm’s cold storage during the inspection was also confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with PFGE pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from two of the four outbreak strains.

As a result of the isolation of outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes in the environment of the packing facility and whole cantaloupes collected from cold storage, and the fact that this is the first documented listeriosis outbreak associated with fresh, whole cantaloupe in the United States, FDA initiated an environmental assessment in conjunction with Colorado state and local officials. FDA, state, and local officials conducted the environmental assessment at Jensen Farms on September 22-23, 2011. The environmental assessment was conducted to gather more information to assist FDA in identifying the factors that potentially contributed to the introduction, growth, or spread of the Listeria monocytogenes strains that contaminated the cantaloupe. 

FDA identified the following factors as those that most likely contributed to the introduction, spread, and growth of Listeria monocytogenes in the cantaloupes:

Introduction:

  • There could have been low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the field where the cantaloupe were grown, which could have been introduced into the packing facility
  • A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility

Spread:

  • The packing facility’s design allowed water to pool on the floor near equipment and employee walkways;
  • The packing facility floor was constructed in a manner that made it difficult to clean
  • The packing equipment was not easily cleaned and sanitized; washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing was previously used for postharvest handling of another raw agricultural commodity.

Growth:

  • There was no pre-cooling step to remove field heat from the cantaloupes before cold storage. As the cantaloupes cooled there may have been condensation that promoted the growth of Listeria monocytogenes.

FDA’s findings regarding this particular outbreak highlight the importance for firms to employ good agricultural and management practices in their packing facilities as well as in growing fields. FDA recommends that firms employ good agricultural and management practices recommended for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, storage and transporting of fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed or minimally processed raw form. 

FDA has issued a warning letter to Jensen Farms based on environmental and cantaloupe samples collected during the inspection. FDA’s investigation at Jensen Farms is still considered an open investigation.

Jensen Farms’ Recall

Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled1 its whole cantaloupes on Sept. 14 in response to the multi-state outbreak of listeriosis. Cantaloupes from other farms have not been linked to this outbreak.

FDA has successfully audited the majority of Jensen Farms’ direct and secondary accounts. The recalled cantaloupes were produced from the end of July to September 10, 2011. Given that the Jensen Farms’ recall has been in effect for more than a month and that the shelf life of a cantaloupe is approximately two weeks, it is expected that all of the recalled whole Jensen Farms cantaloupes have been removed from the marketplace.

FDA has verified that the following states received recalled cantaloupes directly from Jensen Farms: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. There is no indication of foreign distribution. 

Consumer Safety Information

Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, about 40 Fahrenheit (4 Celsius). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow.

It is very important that consumers clean their refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces. Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.                           

FDA advises consumers not to eat the recalled cantaloupes and to throw them away. Do not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.

Listeriosis is rare but can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include older adults, people with compromised immune systems and unborn babies and newborns. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness or death in newborn babies, though the mother herself rarely becomes seriously ill. A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches. Persons who think they might have become ill should consult their doctor.

For more information on the epidemiologic investigation, please refer to CDC’s Investigation on the Multi-State Listeriosis Outbreak2.

Questions to Consider

1.  What might the unaffected producers do to protect themselves from the crisis and why might those actions be helpful?

2.  Why should the FDA report intensify the crisis for Jensen Farms?

3.  Is it fair for stores to remove cantaloupe from their shelves?  How can they justify such actions?

4.  What role does the number of deaths and infections do to keep the crisis alive?

5.  What actions should Jensen Farms be taking at this point to address the crisis?  How would those actions be related to risk communication? 

6.  How should the crisis effect the discussion of food safety in the US?

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Cantaloupe Crisis II: A Crisis Lingers

This is the second of the blogs about the 2011 food safety crisis/food recall.  The case illustrates how a crisis can extend over time.

September 29, 2011

It would seem quick to follow up on the cantaloupe post from yesterday but there are still some additional points to consider and information continues to roll in about the crisis.  It is odd for listeria to be found in a fruit, in fact it is the first ever listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupe.  Listeria is associated with processed meat, cheese, and milk.  Listeria can take up to two months to incubate.  That means more cases, and possible deaths, can keep appearing for weeks.  Each new case has the potential to extend the crisis and traditional and social media keep reporting on the events.

Jensen Farms remains at the center of the crisis as their cantaloupe are the cause of the outbreak.  However, there are gaps in the information about where the infected cantaloupe had been shipped.  Consider the following news item:

“Neither the government nor Jensen Farms has supplied a list of retailers who may have sold the fruit. Officials say consumers should ask retailers about the origins of their cantaloupe. If they still aren’t sure, they should get rid of it.

Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo. says it shipped cantaloupes to 25 states, though the FDA has said it may be more, and illnesses have been discovered in several states that were not on the shipping list. A spokeswoman for Jensen Farms said the company’s product is often sold and resold, so they do not always know where it went.

The recalled cantaloupes may be labeled ‘Colorado Grown,’ ‘’Distributed by Frontera Produce,’ ‘’Jensenfarms.com’ or ‘Sweet Rocky Fords.’ Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said. The company said it shipped out more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupes that contained five to 15 melons, meaning the recall involved 1.5 million to 4.5 million pieces of fruit.”

Officials are still working to track down the cause of the outbreak.  As one news story noted:

“Government investigators are continuing to search for the root cause of the outbreak, examining the possibility of animal or water contamination as well as the farm’s harvesting practices.”

Doubt will linger about the product’s safety until the root cause can be found.  Until a cause is found, no corrective actions can be taken that will reassure customers that the same event will not be repeated. 

Uncertainty is a part of crises but no identified cause coupled with no clear list of retailers generates great uncertainty for customers.  This uncertainty is captured the following comment from the CDC:

“If it’s not Jensen Farms, it’s OK to eat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “But if you can’t confirm it’s not Jensen Farms, then it’s best to throw it out.”

The uncertainty creates problems for all cantaloupe growers.  People become fearful of the product and avoid all cantaloupe.  Such was the situation in 1991 when Texas cantaloupe was associated with a salmonella outbreak.  California cantaloupe growers experienced a drop in sales too as customers just new “cantaloupe” was dangerous and was not differentiating between Texas and California cantaloupe.  In 1992, the Cantaloupe Advisory Board in California reduced its promotional spending believing a low profile would help people to forgive the health scare from 1991.  Other Colorado growers are concerned about the effects on their sales:

Local farmers are worried about cantaloupe sales after a Colorado farm says listeria has been found in some of its fruit. The new developments have prompted a recall of the fruit from Jensen Farms in melon-rich area of Rocky Ford.

Thursday’s recall most likely means a slow down in sales for local farmers, too. And, with melon season heating up for some on the Western Slope, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“It can be devastating if it’s in some of your major items,” Farmer Robert Helmer said of a produce recall.

Another factor that helps crises to linger are lawsuits.  Lawsuits can bring media attention and do involve financial costs.  More families are initiating lawsuits against Jensen Farms.  Here is sample of the media coverage from one lawsuit

Herbert Stevens of Littleton, Colo., bought half of a Jensen Farms cantaloupe wrapped in plastic at a local grocery store on Aug. 10 and the 84-year-old developed tremors on Aug. 22.

“On the 24th, he got really weak and was in a sitting position and couldn’t get up,” his daughter, Jeni Exley, told ABCNews.com.

Stevens’ wife called 911 and he was taken to a hospital, where doctors discovered he had a fever of 102.7. By the end of the weekend, he had been diagnosed with listeriosis.

Antibiotics destroyed the listeria in Stevens’ body, but he remains weak and it’s unclear when — if ever — he’ll be able to leave the long-term care facility where he’s been living for the past week.

“He is making some progress but still relies on a walker to walk and assistance with activities of daily living,” Exley said.

Prior to contracting the bacteria, Stevens was able to walk without assistance and was in good health. He often took trips abroad with his family, most recently to Sweden.

Right now, however, “He sleeps for most of the day,” said Exley. “This has played havoc with his whole body.”

 

The stories do generate sympathy for the victims given the deadly nature and effects of listeria.

Finally, the Food and Drug Adminstration said the situation is further evidence of the need for the  Food Safety Modernization Act.

 

Questions to Consider

1.  What else could Jensen Farms do to improve on its crisis communication effort?

2.  How does this case illustrate the constraints that can limit an organization’s ability to respond effectively to a crisis?

3.  What can other producers do to limit the collateral damage from this crisis?

4.  Why does the CDC play such a pivotal role in these types of food borne illness crises?

5.  Jensen’s is considered a family farm.  Why might that be an asset in this crisis?

6.  Does Jensen Farms need to do more to address the lack of information about retailers?  Why or why not?

7.  Is this an appropriate time to push the Food Safety Modernazation Act?  Why or why not?

Fear the Fruit? Revisit Cantaloupe and Listeria 2011

This is the first in three blogs from 2011 about a serious food safety crisis.  The case shows how a recall by one small producer can have serious national repercussions for consumers and an entire industry.

September 28, 2011

Cantaloupe is an ancient fruit with references dating back to ancient Egypt in  2600BC.  People are very familiar with the orange fruit.  It is a staple of summer along with watermelon.  But any food can become deadly if it is tainted in some way.  In 2011, a deadly listeria outbreak was caused by cantaloupe from Colorado.  It was a multistate outbreak with victims appearing in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. By late September of 2011, 16 deaths were associated with the outbreak making it one of the most outbreaks in over a decade.

Listeria is not uncommon with over 1,600 cases in the U.S. each year and an average of three to four outbreaks.  Unfortunately, the death rate from listeria tends to be higher than for other food-borne bacteria.  Here is some additional information about listeria from the Cetners for Disease Control (CDC):

 

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is an important public health problem in the United States. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. However, rarely, persons without these risk factors can also be affected. The risk may be reduced by following a few simple recommendations.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has “invasive” infection, in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms vary with the infected person:

  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women typically experience only a mild, flu-like illness. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • Persons other than pregnant women: Symptoms, in addition to fever and muscle aches, can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

How great is the risk for listeriosis?

In the United States, an estimated 1,600 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 260 die. The following groups are at increased risk:

  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one in six (17%) cases of listeriosis occurs during pregnancy.
  • Newborns: Newborns suffer the most serious effects of infection in pregnancy.
  • Persons with weakened immune systems from transplants or certain diseases, therapies, or medications.
  • Persons with cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, liver or kidney disease.
  • Persons with AIDS: They are almost 300 times more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems.
  • Older adults

Healthy children and adults occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.

 

With any food-borne illness, the CDC works closely with state and local health officials to identify the cause of an outbreak once one has been identified.  The research involves interviewing victims to determine what and where they have eaten and to test food once possible sources have been identified.  In this case, the source was linked to Jensen Farms and its field in Granada, Colorado.  Consumers were warned not to eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.  Clearly this was a case of product harm and a recall was issued.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted the official government statement on the recall:

Jensen Farms Recalls Cantaloupe Due to Possible Health Risk

 

Contact: Consumer 800-267-4561 recall@rfordcantaloupe.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 14, 2011 – Jensen Farms, of Holly, CO is voluntarily recalling their shipments of Rocky Ford whole cantaloupe because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria. The company is working with the State of Colorado and the FDA to inform consumers of this recall. L. monocytogenes is a bacterium that can contaminate foods and cause a mild non-invasive illness (called listerial gastroenteritis) or a severe, sometimes life-threatening, illness (called invasive listeriosis). Persons who have the greatest risk of experiencing listeriosis after consuming foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes are fetuses and neonates who are infected after the mother is exposed to L. monocytogenes during pregnancy, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

The whole cantaloupes in question were shipped between July 29th, 2011 and September 10th 2011, and distributed to the following states: IL, WY, TN, UT, TX, CO, MN, KS, NM, NC, MO, NE, OK, AZ, NJ, NY, PA. The whole cantaloupes have a green and white sticker that reads: Product of USA- Frontera Produce-Colorado Fresh-Rocky Ford-Cantaloupe or a gray, yellow, and green sticker that reads: Jensen Farms-Sweet Rocky Fords. If the whole cantaloupe is unlabeled, please contact your retail store for sourcing information. Jensen Farms is requesting any consumer that many have one of these cantaloupes to please destroy the products.

The recall involves only whole cantaloupe shipped by Jensen Farms, and no other commodities are involved. Jensen Farms feels it is prudent to participate in the recall as the State of Colorado has stated (in their September 12th, 2011 press release) that people at a high risk for infection should not eat whole cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford growing region.

“Jensen Farms continues to stay committed to the highest levels of food safety and maintains many third party safety audits, as we have for many years. We continually look for ways to enhance our protocol,” said Ryan Jensen, partner at Jensen Farms. Jensen Farms is a 3rd generation family farm of the Holly, Colorado community.

Consumers with questions may contact Jensen Farms via email at recall@rfordcantaloupe.com or phone 1-800-267-4561 between the hours of 9am and 4pm MST.

 

###

The notice provided links to Flickr pictures of the recalled fruit.  Visuals make it easier for to identify if they have the recalled product.

The product harm created a crisis for Jensen Farms.  Here is their announcement of the recall from their web site:

 

Company Statement

STATEMENT REGARDING 9/16/11 CANTALOUPE TEST RESULTS FROM COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT “We are deeply saddened to learn that cantaloupes grown on our farm have been linked to the current Listeria outbreak. Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who have been affected by this terrible situation. “We have been cooperating fully with public health officials who are trying to determine the source of the outbreak, and we will continue to do everything we can to assist them in their efforts. We hope that the investigation into the entire supply chain from farm to retail identifies the source of the contamination so that appropriate steps can be taken to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.”

Eric and Ryan Jensen Jensen Farms

Press Release

Jensen Farms Recalls Cantaloupe Due to Possible Health Risk FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 14th, 2011-Jensen Farms, of Holly, CO is voluntarily recalling their shipments of Rocky Ford whole cantaloupe because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria. The company is working with the State of Colorado and the FDA to inform consumers of this recall. L. monocytogenes is a bacterium that can contaminate foods and cause a mild non-invasive illness (called listerial gastroenteritis) or a severe, sometimes life-threatening, illness (called invasive listeriosis). Persons who have the greatest risk of experiencing listeriosis after consuming foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes are fetuses and neonates who are infected after the mother is exposed to L. monocytogenes during pregnancy, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. The whole cantaloupes in question were shipped between July 29th, 2011 and September 10th 2011, and distributed to the following states: IL, WY, TN, UT, TX, CO, MN, KS, NM, NC, MO, NE, OK, AZ, NJ, NY, PA. The whole cantaloupes have a green and white sticker that reads: Product of USA- Frontera Produce-Colorado Fresh-Rocky Ford- Cantaloupe or a gray, yellow, and green sticker that reads: Jensen Farms-Sweet Rocky Fords. If the whole cantaloupe is unlabeled, please contact your retail store for sourcing information. Jensen Farms is requesting any consumer that may have one of these cantaloupes to please destroy the products. The recall involves only whole cantaloupe shipped by Jensen Farms, and no other commodities are involved. Jensen Farms feels it is prudent to participate in the recall as the State of Colorado has stated (in their September 12th, 2011 press release) that people at a high risk for infection should not eat whole cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford growing region. “Jensen Farms continues to stay committed to the highest levels of food safety and maintains many third party safety audits, as we have for many years. We continually look for ways to enhance our protocol,” said Ryan Jensen, partner at Jensen Farms. Jensen Farms is a 3rd generation family farm of the Holly, Colorado community. Consumers with questions may contact Jensen Farms via email at recall@rfordcantaloupe.com or phone 1-800-267-4561 between the hours of 9am and 4pm MST.

The recall information could be found using a link placed in the bottom right corner of the Jensen Farms home page.  The information was clearly visible in the “Farm Blog” tab and easy to access.  Jensen Farms has a Facebook page with a little over 200 fans/likes.  They posted a statement there are well and their supports rallied around the company.  Below is the Facebook post and some responses:

Many Thanks to those with continued support of Jensen Farms

We want to reach out an thank everyone for supporting us through this terrible time in the history of our beloved farm. Your messages and wall posts are helping us stay motivated, and optimistic about our future. Thank you…

Responses:

We are very sorry to hear about your time of trial our family will lift up you, your family and the others affected by this trial. God Bless and keep trusting.

I feel the store may have been the issue..I hope and pray your farm is clean so you can continue to share good food with us all….But Please do us all a favor…edcuate everyone as you learn…..the truth:) We are all with you and with the families that are ill…we are just a small farm , we grow organics for ourself but need farms like you to supply what we dont grow for ourself….Our trust is in the truth….best wishes to your family and the families of the ill to get to the bottom of this , to learn and grow

Love you guys and hope everything gets cleared up soon!!!

Praying for you and your family. I will continue to purchase our produce direct from the Arkansas Valley. Hope the consumers will learn how important it is to wash their produce no matter what. Don’t ever loose the faith, God Bless.

I am praying for your family/farm, and will continue to buy your produce!

I cant even imagine but you have mine and my families support..click on me if you need any help, I’ll try and do what ever I can…Im really ticked that this happened weather it was planted or just a freak of nature. Im even more ticked that someone is wanting to be greedy and gain from this mess..But you do have my support, just ask…thats what people do they come together and help

It really could have happened to anyone, so my best hope is that people understand this and don’t let it stop them from buying your produce in the future. Best of luck!

I’m so sorry this has happened and you will always have my support!

Praying for you guys! This is just heart breaking and if there is anything we can do to help just let us know! I love cantaloupe, it’s my favorite. Everyone needs to make sure they wash their produce before it is consumed.

 

With people becoming ill and dying, a lawsuit was quick to follow the crisis.   Charles Palmer, 71 years-old, was hospitalized for two weeks from the listeria in the cantaloupe he ate.  Here are the Jensen Farm comments in the story about the lawsuit:

“We’re deeply saddened that there’s a possibility that our family’s cantaloupe could have gotten somebody sick,” Jensen Farms owner Eric Jensen told 7NEWS Thursday. “Our first priority is the public’s health and safety.”  Jensen’s fourth-generation family farm in Holly, normally busy with harvest now, was ghostly quiet after the suspected listeria contamination forced Jensen to shut down Monday and destroy his cantaloupe crops.

 

The grower launched a voluntary nationwide recall on Wednesday.

Jensen said the farm had never faced a public health crisis and he’d never heard of listeria contaminating cantaloupe.  “We’re still in shock,” Jensen said, choking with emotion. “We’re completely focused on our recall efforts right now.”  Jensen said he had no clue about the source of the contamination, adding that it could still be found “on the retail end.”  While a terrible setback, Jensen said that the listeria outbreak wouldn’t claim his farm.

“We’ll definitely be back,” Jensen vowed.

 

Crises with victims typically are extended in time and cost by lawsuits.  Victims sue the organization causing longer attention from the media and increased costs from the litigation and any settlements resulting from the litigation.

Questions to Consider

  1. How would you rate the crisis response from Jensen Farms and what factors influenced that rating?
  2. How does the government’s involved in a crisis response help or hurt the organization trying to management the crisis?
  3. How did the Jensen Farm recall statement differ from the FDA’s and why would there be a difference?
  4. Was it a good or bad idea for Jensen Farms to post a message of Facebook?  What is the reasoning behind your conclusion?
  5. In general, how might the supportive statements on Facebook help Jensen Farms through this crisis?
  6. Is there any way Jensen Farms might effectively incorporate the supportive Facebook comments into their later crisis response strategies?
  7. What advice would you give to Jensen Farms about recovering from the crisis at this point?

Crises and Memorials

This is a blog I wrote in 2013 about the anniversary of the Costa Concordia sinking.  It is still a valuable example of the role of memorials in crisis communication and the journalistic interest in the anniversary of a crisis.

Costa Concordia:  A Year Later

Crises can linger for organizations.  You could argue, the worse the crisis event the longer the effects can haunt an organization and its stakeholders.  When crises involve a loss of life, memorial and anniversaries serve to maintain awareness of the crisis and the continuing need for crisis communication.  The Costa Concordia is an example of the memorial and anniversary dimension of crisis communication and crisis management.

January 13, 2013 is the one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia crisis.  The Cruise ship ran aground off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio and sank killing 32 people of the 4,252 passengers and crew on board the ship. The Ship is still in the water and removal may not be complete unitl September of 2013.  It is only natural to commemorate and to remember such a terrible tragedy such as this crisis.  Carnival Cruise is the parent company involved in the crisis.  Carnival owns Costa Crociere SpA, the operators of the Costa Concordia.  Most of the crisis communication has come from Costa Crociere SpA. 

A number of events were planned to mark the first anniversary of the event including an unveiling of memorials to the victims, a minute’s silence held at the time of the crash, and a mass in honor of the victims at the church on the island of Giglio.  Here is the statement from Costa Crociere SpA about the event:

 

A year has passed since the dramatic events of the Costa Concordia, events which have left their mark on each one of us.

It has affected those closest to us – our guests and our staff – and we have the sincerest compassion for the suffering they have all experienced, and for the grief of the families of those who are no longer with us.

On 13 January 2013, there will be a commemoration day on the island of Giglio in memory of those who lost their lives. We will renew our thanks to the citizens of the Island, as well as to all the rescue teams, who were so generous in assisting and supporting the survivors on that night.

One year on, on 13 January flags will be flown at half-mast at all Costa’s offices worldwide, and on all of our ships. A mass will be held in the ships’ theatres with a minute’s silence at the end of the service.

In Genoa, the home of our head office, the local staff will attend another commemorative mass at the Basilica of St Mary of the Assumption, Carignano. As a mark of respect for our different religions, there will be an inter religious mass in Paris, Hindu ceremonies in Mumbay and Bali, a Muslim one in Jakarta, a Buddhist one in Shanghai and a Catholic mass in Goa, Jakarta, Manila and Lima.

Be assured that I am personally committed, along with all of Costa Crociere and the rest of the cruise industry, to make every possible effort to prevent something like this from happening again. The safety of our guests and crew has always been and will continue to be our paramount priority.

We would like to thank all those have given us continued trust and loyalty. We hope that all our prayers on this sad anniversary, expressed in different languages and beliefs but with a single voice, will help lead us to a brighter future.

With sincere gratitude,

Michael Thamm
CEO

 

The memorial was a visually dramatic element for the ceremony.  Here is a description of the memorial:  “The day of commemorations began when a section of the rock that tore a 70-metre (230-foot) gash in the ship’s hull was returned to the seabed. A crane mounted on a tug boat lowered the rock beneath the waves. A memorial plaque affixed to its side was all that distinguished it from the rocky coastline of the island of Giglio.”

The event actually generated a great deal of controversy and media coverage (legacy and digital) before is transpired.  Survivors were sent letters by Costa Crociere SpA asking them not to attend the event due to space limitations.  The focus was to be on the families and friends of the vicitms, not the survivors.  Costa Crociere SpA and the municipality of Giglio were running ceremony.  Here is a sample of the conflict:

“’We are sure that you will understand both the logistical impossibility of accommodating all of you on the island, as well as the desire for privacy expressed by the families at this sorrowful time,’ Costa chief executive Michael Thamm wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

He expressed sympathies to the survivors and said he trusted that their thoughts and prayers “will help lead us to a brighter future.”

While some survivors said they understood that the families who lost loved ones deserved particular attention, many of those who are still struggling to get through each day said the letter added insult to their injuries — both physical and psychological. Some speculated that the letter was more about keeping disgruntled passengers, many of whom have taken legal action against Costa, away from the TV cameras that have flooded the island for the anniversary.”

There was a compromise as survivors who did arrive in Giglio were accommodated.  However, the memorial and commemoration was much more contentious than was planned making a healing event divisive in some respects.

Questions to Consider

1.  Why was the idea of Costa Crociere SpA planning an anniversary and memorial a good idea?

2.  How could Costa Crociere SpA have executed the anniversary and memorial more effectively?

3.  What other factors can account for the tension between the survivors and Costa Crociere SpA?

4.  What are the purposes of a memorial for a crisis?  Does it seem like the Costa Concordia memorial will achieve these purposes?  Why or why not?

5.  What are the dangers when an organization becomes involved in memorial efforts?

6.  There is a closed Facebook page for Costa Concordia survivors.  How might this page have been of use when Costa Crociere SpA was planning the memorial and anniversary?

 

 

Airline Outrage

It began with United having a passenger removed due to overbooking that escalated into violent and continued through an American flight attendant having a hostile encounter with a passenger to Delta turning a flight around and removing a passenger for getting up and going to the bathroom while the flight was waiting to takeoff.  These are separate incidents that should be considered for their own circumstances.  United involved the forced removal and significant physical harm to passenger by security forces.  American was a flight attendant meltdown with a passenger, that has happened before and probably will happen again given the stressful nature of flight attendant work including the emotional labor demands.  Delta had a passenger violate FAA regulations and the company followed the rules for the violation.  At heart, each event is different.  What is common across the three is the outrage each has sparked among customers and potential customers.  People who fly usually have reasons to dislike an airline.  People have had flights cancelled, seats reassigned for no apparent reason, missed flights, had luggage delayed or lost etc.  When perceived passenger mistreatment appears in the media, it becomes a catalyst for this residual anger and creates what can legitimately be termed public outrage.  There is not simple crisis communication when a crisis produces outrage.  Organizations still should try their best, United did not give its best while American did, but should not expect the outrage to simply evaporate.  Crisis communication does not work miracles.  In some crises, only time will allow the outrage to subside.  However, crisis communicators should avoid poking the bear, that would be United, and adding fuel to the outrage.  Give an appropriate response that shows concern for the victim. See Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) research for the evidence of the value of focusing on victims during a crisis.

 

I would like to add that of the three, only United is true crisis.  The American and Delta situations are really paracrises, threats that are managed in public.  American is high profile failure of customer service.  The crisis response included effective customer relations resolution techniques.  Delta was an FAA violation.  We may not like the rules but their regulations that govern how people are the behave on airplanes.  We do not smoke nor tamper with smoke detectors.  Also, you do not get out of your seat on an active runway.  Takeoff and landing are the most dangerous times during a flight.  Yes, the man needed to go badly.  However, if you break the rules (for whatever reason) you must be willing to face the consequences.  Being on an airplane comes with legal constraints we all must abide for the safety of all.  This is not a message that will resonate with outraged customers but it is the truth.  Delta stood by its decision and that is unpopular but ultimately the right thing to do.  Your frontline employees have to enforce rules and management needs to support them.  The Delta incident was hyper-inflated by events on United and American to some degree.  Timing can matter in a crisis and the timing of the bathroom incident was unfortunate for Delta because of the existing outrage. 

It Begins …

Crisis communication remains a very vibrant and developing field.  I am writing this blog to provide commentary on events of interest to practitioners and researchers.  The idea is to discuss recent crisis cases and research that could be of interest to those in the crisis communication community.  The material also can be used by those teaching crisis communication, especially those using Ongoing Crisis Communication as a text.