Maple Leaf Foods and Crisis Management

Eating is one of life’s pleasures — or it’s supposed to be. But increasingly it seems to be riskier than skydiving or practicing street luge in the hills of San Fran.

Earlier this year there was the nation-wide salmonella scare in the United States that sickened hundreds. Tomatoes were labeled the culprits but there was later speculation that it was jalapenos or possibly cilantro.

And now, in Canada, there are six confirmed deaths due to listeriosis from contaminated cured meat originating from a Maple Leaf Foods plant based in Toronto. Five other deaths in Ontario and one all the way across the country in B.C.

Six additional deaths may also be linked to this outbreak.

And approximately 30 other cases of this bacterial infection are suspected so far- and that number is expected to climb as listeriosis has a lengthy period of incubation. It can take just over two months for symptoms to appear, meaning that panic and pondering will also be on the rise during the next few weeks.

Or it would be except for the fact that Maple Leaf Foods has, after these egregious events, acted in a manner that will hopefully quell fears and prevent additional deaths.

How They’ve Handled This

Maple Leaf Foods immediately shut down the plant in question and recalled approximately 20 types of meat involved. As investigators from the Public Health Agency of Canada uncovered more information, the company took precautionary measures and widened its recall to include 200 additional products.

The company also made sure the public has the information it needs by posting a sizeable PDF on its website detailing which products are involved and to be avoided.

The site also updates press releases as received and implores those viewing it to “Check back often to see what we are doing to win back your confidence.”

Additionally, a somber and penitent statement featuring the company’s President and CEO Michael McCain has apparently been running frequently on major Canadian networks during commercial breaks for popular programs as well as on YouTube.

And a full page letter from Michael McCain quickly appeared in the major Canadian newspapers.

And Why Does this Matter?

From a public relations standpoint, this is a textbook case of excellent crisis management. The company acted quickly and effectively.

They took control of the situation and offered what appears to be genuine contrition. (McCain even apologizes in the commercial for the failure of their “culture of food safety”- and actually stating that you’re sorry is something at which most companies would balk. And at which most lawyers would pounce – and they may yet.)

Additionally, on the business side, analysts have praised the way the company has responded to the crisis.

However, ultimately, the company’s swift and thorough response will not be considered enough. Because their actions will be of small comfort to those who have been sickened or who have lost loved ones to this nasty bacterial outbreak.


7 comments so far

  1. […] Maple Leaf Foods and Crisis Management [nw] :: Whynaut – as a Canadian this disaster in our food distribution system that is killing people is kind of important […]

  2. markdykeman on

    I think you’ve given a pretty objective assessment of this situation.

  3. abbymartin on


    And thank you so much for leaving a comment (I’m quite fond of Broadcasting Brain so I truly appreciate it.)

    I tried to be fair. It was not easy. As a communications professional, I think they did the right things. As a member of the public and a parent….less generous in my assessment.


  4. markdykeman on

    Thanks. I have similar concerns from a personal perspective – who wouldn’t?

  5. Andy on

    Im a college business student and i doing a paper on crisis managment, so i just wanted to thank you for posting this article, it was a great help.

    • abbymartin on

      Andy: glad it was helpful.
      Thanks for the kind words.

  6. […] reporter Abby Martin wrote a blog post that chronicles the steps taken by Maple Leaf Foods in response to the crisis (How They Handled This).  She concludes with the following sobering […]

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