Sangar Fresh Cut Produce is in the midst of a public relations nightmare, now that everybody who pays attention to food safety events at all knows that its at the center of a listeria outbreak that may have killed four people. Sangar’s brass is taking a pretty brash stance on its implication in the outbreak, saying that the State of Texas got it wrong when it generated positive listeria test results from samples of Sangar celery, prompting the closure of Sangar’s plant and the recall of Sangar products produced since January.
Companies should defend themselves, especially when they have a legitimate belief that they have been wrongly implicated in a mess that really wasn’t of their making. But the State of Texas Health Department looks like it really does have the goods on Sangar celery. Likely the PFGE pattern associated with the positive celery tests matches the isolates drawn from the four people thought to have died in the outbreak; and likely the State has figured out how those people were exposed to Sangar products as well. This was probably an easier task here than it sometimes is in listeria outbreak situations because, as has been widely reported, the folks who died had underlying illnesses and were likely hospitalized, and Sangar is known to service hospitals.
In any event, it’s always a good idea to pass judgment only after you know all the facts, but the Sangar listeria outbreak investigation has the appearance of being highly credible. Maybe i’m just a bit jaded, however, when it comes to these things. See Hartmann Dairy’s Typically Raw-Milkian PR Blunder. My advice would be to follow Bill Marler’s advice (7 steps for CEO’s to take in dealing with outbreaks):
Fourth, assuming that the outbreak is in fact your fault, publicly admit it. If it is not your fault, then fight it. However, pretending that you are innocent when you are actually at fault will get you nowhere. Asking for forgiveness is not a bad thing when you have something to be forgiven for. Saying you are sorry is not wrong when you are in fact wrong.
After all, as the foodpoisoning lawyer who has represented more people with legitimate foodpoisoning claims than anybody in the world, he’s been through more than a few of these situations.