Food safety is an issue that effects virtually everyone on our planet. While those of us who are fortunate to enjoy food security all too often food safety is taken for granted. We don’t consider that the package of uncooked ground beef our grocery store provides us could kill us. Many satisfy themselves that there are sufficient regulations in place to ensure our food is safe.

When anything shakes that notion, it is certain to cause a media storm and panic among a weary pubic, who expects safety as a baseline for all food products.

The recent XL Foods beef recall is a demonstration of a crisis of confidence that led to a communications crisis for the company. If one reviews Xl Foods approach, you would note neither of the owners ever spoke publicly, while loyal customers were getting sick.

The decision to remain silent and for managers to provide prepackaged quotes to the media, obviously did not satisfy the public concern.

As a result their brand, their retail partners and Canada’s food safety system have all taken a hit.

A report I read that reviewed real world examples and analyzed the impact of crises on brands, showed that eighty percent of companies that experience a public crisis, lose at least 20% of their business following that crisis. How one handles crises as they arise determine whether one can continue to operate the day after the storm.

It’s important in cases of crises to communicate openly, and honestly with those who are seeking information. The public interest must be maintained by sharing with them the information they need to understand. A lack of communication sparks speculation, fear and suggests the organization in question is simply unable to handle and respond to the circumstances.

There are many examples of bad crisis communication responses. Silence is not necessarily the worst (lying or downplaying is worse than silence), but certainly not a responsible way to handle preserving your brand.

Engaging an external consultant who can work with your internal team, legal counsel and others involved in addressing the core issues that lead to the crisis is critical to develop a coherent, robust crisis communications message that will allow your brand to survive and recover.