Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, April 14, 2015

This week we look at Blue Bell Creameries L.P. and how it is handling a recall of ice cream products linked to a listeria outbreak. Three people died in Kansas, and while health officials in Kansas say listeriosis didn’t cause the deaths, they said the tainted ice cream products might have been a contributing factor. Illnesses linked to the tainted ice cream products also were reported in Texas.

The company has issued three product recalls, temporarily shut down the plant where the products were being made, and the chief executive issued a statement apologizing and saying the company is working with federal inspectors as they conduct their investigation. The crisis experts evaluated the company’s actions and statements for how effective they were in assuring customers and telling the company’s side of the story.

Davia B. Temin, president and CEO, Temin and Co.: “From all their public actions, it does not look as if Blue Bell has sided with their customers–only themselves–breaking a cardinal rule of crisis management. Listing their errors: One, they were behind the story, not in front of it; it looks as if they were forced into action. Two, once they finally did institute a recall, it was overly complicated. Forcing customers to ‘find the SKU number’ on the bottom of the container to see if their ice cream is safe is onerous.

“Three, similarly troublesome are Blue Bell’s cascading recalls. Clearly the company limited its recalls too narrowly at the outset, and then has had to issue multiple recalls. Every time they are forced to issue a new recall, their credibility is compromised. Listeria is a serious illness; it would have been far better to issue a broad recall and then reintroduce products swiftly and with assurance.

“Four, most of their communications are bloodless, ‘corporate-eze’ and ineffective. There appears to be little remorse, or human touch. Even the letter from their CEO feels as if it were written by a lawyer. Of course lawyers must weigh in, but even if lawyers do write the CEO letter, it must not read that way. A little humanity goes a very long way in a crisis, and Blue Bell seems not to have figured that out soon enough.”

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