On January 14th, the CDC reported the conclusion of an outbreak of Salmonella Agbeni illnesses that initially began in November of last year. The outbreak of Salmonella – which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps and can result in death if left untreated – was linked to four types of Duncan Hines boxed cake mix. While cooperation between the FDA, CDC and several state agencies limited the impact of the outbreak to 7 illnesses in 5 states, this recall serves as a good reminder of the importance of clear communications throughout the entire supply chain.
Identifying and investigating the source of any outbreak is a key early objective, but it’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle. In the case of this recall, the FDA traced the origin of the affected products and investigated the facility, where they collected environmental and product samples. The samples, however, tested negative for Salmonella and didn’t provide enough information to determine whether the reported illnesses were caused by eating contaminated cake mix. Regardless, the manufacturer still must take responsibility for limiting the danger to consumers, which requires removing any affected (or potentially affected) product from store shelves as quickly as possible.
Removing affected product from store shelves is the manufacturer’s last opportunity to take direct action before they are forced to rely on consumers to remove the product from their homes themselves. It’s at this critical step that communication plays a key role. Every retailer, from a big box outlet to a small family-owned corner store, needs to be made aware of the recall before they can take steps to protect consumers. Unfortunately, even brands as large as Conagra, the owners of Duncan Hines, can find it difficult to reach every link in the supply chain. This step is particularly critical for items like cake mix that have a long shelf-life because, unlike with fresh items such as fruits and vegetables, almost no product is thrown away simply due to spoilage or damage. Dry, packaged goods like these can sit on shelves, available to consumers, for a very long time. In response to a recall, manufacturers must quickly communicate clear, comprehensive information to ensure that all impacted stores know how to identify affected product, what steps they must take to protect their customers and how to stay informed of further developments. In addition to safely removing and disposing of affected product, communications must help prepare them to answer their customer’s questions and concerns throughout the recall cycle.
Stopping an outbreak at its source is an unquestionably important part of protecting the public, but it’s just the beginning. A multi-channel communications plan informed by a thorough understanding of the entire supply chain and managed by recall notification experts will arm employees at all stores, not just major retailers, with the information they need to help prevent consumers from taking a contaminated or otherwise unsafe product into their homes.
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