Cantaloupe Crisis to Linger: Incubation and Litigation

September 29, 2011

It would seem quick to follow up on the cantaloupe post from yesterday but there are still some additional points to consider and information continues to roll in about the crisis.  It is odd for listeria to be found in a fruit, in fact it is the first ever listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupe.  Listeria is associated with processed meat, cheese, and milk.  Listeria can take up to two months to incubate.  That means more cases, and possible deaths, can keep appearing for weeks.  Each new case has the potential to extend the crisis and traditional and social media keep reporting on the events.

Jensen Farms remains at the center of the crisis as their cantaloupe are the cause of the outbreak.  However, there are gaps in the information about where the infected cantaloupe had been shipped.  Consider the following news item:

“Neither the government nor Jensen Farms has supplied a list of retailers who may have sold the fruit. Officials say consumers should ask retailers about the origins of their cantaloupe. If they still aren’t sure, they should get rid of it.

Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo. says it shipped cantaloupes to 25 states, though the FDA has said it may be more, and illnesses have been discovered in several states that were not on the shipping list. A spokeswoman for Jensen Farms said the company’s product is often sold and resold, so they do not always know where it went.

The recalled cantaloupes may be labeled ‘Colorado Grown,’ ‘’Distributed by Frontera Produce,’ ‘’’ or ‘Sweet Rocky Fords.’ Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said. The company said it shipped out more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupes that contained five to 15 melons, meaning the recall involved 1.5 million to 4.5 million pieces of fruit.”

Officials are still working to track down the cause of the outbreak.  As one news story noted:

“Government investigators are continuing to search for the root cause of the outbreak, examining the possibility of animal or water contamination as well as the farm’s harvesting practices.”

Doubt will linger about the product’s safety until the root cause can be found.  Until a cause is found, no corrective actions can be taken that will reassure customers that the same event will not be repeated. 

Uncertainty is a part of crises but no identified cause coupled with no clear list of retailers generates great uncertainty for customers.  This uncertainty is captured the following comment from the CDC:

“If it’s not Jensen Farms, it’s OK to eat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “But if you can’t confirm it’s not Jensen Farms, then it’s best to throw it out.”

The uncertainty creates problems for all cantaloupe growers.  People become fearful of the product and avoid all cantaloupe.  Such was the situation in 1991 when Texas cantaloupe was associated with a salmonella outbreak.  California cantaloupe growers experienced a drop in sales too as customers just new “cantaloupe” was dangerous and was not differentiating between Texas and California cantaloupe.  In 1992, the Cantaloupe Advisory Board in California reduced its promotional spending believing a low profile would help people to forgive the health scare from 1991.  Other Colorado growers are concerned about the effects on their sales:

Local farmers are worried about cantaloupe sales after a Colorado farm says listeria has been found in some of its fruit. The new developments have prompted a recall of the fruit from Jensen Farms in melon-rich area of Rocky Ford.

Thursday’s recall most likely means a slow down in sales for local farmers, too. And, with melon season heating up for some on the Western Slope, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“It can be devastating if it’s in some of your major items,” Farmer Robert Helmer said of a produce recall.

Another factor that helps crises to linger are lawsuits.  Lawsuits can bring media attention and do involve financial costs.  More families are initiating lawsuits against Jensen Farms.  Here is sample of the media coverage from one lawsuit

Herbert Stevens of Littleton, Colo., bought half of a Jensen Farms cantaloupe wrapped in plastic at a local grocery store on Aug. 10 and the 84-year-old developed tremors on Aug. 22.

“On the 24th, he got really weak and was in a sitting position and couldn’t get up,” his daughter, Jeni Exley, told

Stevens’ wife called 911 and he was taken to a hospital, where doctors discovered he had a fever of 102.7. By the end of the weekend, he had been diagnosed with listeriosis.

Antibiotics destroyed the listeria in Stevens’ body, but he remains weak and it’s unclear when — if ever — he’ll be able to leave the long-term care facility where he’s been living for the past week.

“He is making some progress but still relies on a walker to walk and assistance with activities of daily living,” Exley said.

Prior to contracting the bacteria, Stevens was able to walk without assistance and was in good health. He often took trips abroad with his family, most recently to Sweden.

Right now, however, “He sleeps for most of the day,” said Exley. “This has played havoc with his whole body.”


The stories do generate sympathy for the victims given the deadly nature and effects of listeria.

Finally, the Food and Drug Adminstration said the situation is further evidence of teh need for the  Food Safety Modernization Act.


Questions to Consider

1.  What else could Jensen Farms do to improve on its crisis communication effort?

2.  How does this case illustrate the constraints that can limit an organization’s ability to respond effectively to a crisis?

3.  What can other producers do to limit the collateral damage from this crisis?

4.  Why does the CDC play such a pivotal role in these types of food borne illness crises?

5.  Jensen’s is considered a family farm.  Why might that be an asset in this crisis?

6.  Does Jensen Farms need to do more to address the lack of information about retailers?  Why or why not?

7.  Is this an appropriate time to push the Food Safety Modernazation Act?  Why or why not?



Toyota Fights Back: In this the Corporate Rope-a-Dope

March 8, 2010

Toyota has been like a boxer on the ropes taking punch after punch from the media, Congress, consumers, and other critics.  Mohammad Ali used a strategy called the rope-a-dope.  Ali would lean against the rope taking punches in order to tire his opponent out and counterattack when given the chance.  In more general use, rope-a-dope is when an entity places itself in what appears to be a losing position in an attempt to become the winner.  With the march 8, 2010 counterattack, perhaps Toyota is making its move to “win” in this crisis.  It is still far too early to tell.  However, the counterattack is far cry from the apologies and verbal punches Toyota has been absorbing the past few months. 

As a quick recap, Toyota has had a series of recalls related to sudden acceleration in vehicles.  The sudden acceleration is serious having caused a number of deaths as cars would speed up often exceeding 100 mph.  Toyota’s recall have addressed floor mats and then the gas pedal itself.  Toyota service departments have often been open 24 hours to handle the repair/replacement of the gas pedals.  The televisions airwaves are filled with Toyota advertisements talking about the repair and testimonials from customers saying how they still love their Toyota vehicles. 

Recently Toyota has been taking punches from Congress that have been amplified by the traditional and online media.  The key charge is that Toyota has not really found that problem.  The argument is that the problem is really in the electronics, not the mechanical system as Toyota says.  This is pivotal distinction.  If Toyota has not solved the problem, its customers are still at risk from its flawed product.  At best, Toyota looks incompetent as it cannot find the problem,  At worst, Toyota looks like it is ignoring a safety problem by pretending the pedal design is at fault when they know it is the electronics.

A key piece of evidence being used against Toyota is an “experiment” conducted by David W. Gilbert, an automotive technology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. 

“Gilbert told a congressional hearing Feb. 23 that he recreated sudden acceleration in a Toyota Tundra by short-circuiting the electronics behind the gas pedal — without triggering any trouble codes in the truck’s computer.

The trouble codes send the car’s computer into a fail-safe mode that allows the brake to override the gas. Gilbert called his findings a “startling discovery.”

House lawmakers seized on the testimony as evidence Toyota engineers missed a potential problem with the electronics that could have caused the unwanted acceleration.”;_ylt=AhF0kk4JAJTINoJOzqYMv5cEq594;_ylu=X3oDMTNocnYwbTBnBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwMzA4L3VzX3RveW90YV9yZWNhbGxfZWxlY3Ryb25pY3MEY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwM2BHBvcwM2BHNlYwN5bl90b3Bfc3RvcmllcwRzbGsDdG95b3RhZGlzcHV0

Toyota could no long rest against the ropes and is now fighting back.  The cornerstone of the counterattack is testimony from Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research, and a consulting firm, Exponent Inc.  For most people, Stanford would seem more credible that Southern Illinois.  However, the Stanford Center for Automotive Research and its engineering school receive money from Toyota.  Gerdes maintains his analysis is independent but there are reasons for doubt to creep in.  Experts seem to agree that the conditions found in Gilbert’s “experiment” are extremely unlikely to occur in the real world. 

The stakes are high.  In addition to reputation and sales loss, Toyota is facing intensified Congressional scrutiny over the electronics concern.  This includes accusations that Toyota has ignored the safety issue since 2006.  Toyota has hired a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation to head an internal examination of its quality and safety issues.  A third-party expert is a way add credibility to such investigations.  Here part of the announcement:

“Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA) announced today that former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater will lead an independent North American Quality Advisory Panel to advise the company’s North American affiliates on quality and safety issues.

The panel will work closely with Toyota’s North American leadership team, and will have direct access to Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda.

‘I am pleased that Secretary Slater has accepted our invitation to lead the distinguished group of safety and quality experts who will help Toyota to improve its quality controls in North America,’ said Yoshi Inaba, President and Chief Operating Officer of TMA. ‘We are committed to more transparency regarding our safety and quality controls, and the independent advisors will have our full cooperation and access to any information they believe they need.’

Questions to Consider

  1.  Is it appropriate for Toyota to try to disprove the claims of an electronics problem?  Why or why not?
  2. What does Toyota have to gain with a counterattack?
  3. What does Toyota have to lose with a counterattack?
  4. Can a corporate rope-a-dope be an effective crisis response?  Why or why not?
  5. What ethical issues arise when a corporation uses a counterattack?
  6. What are the ethical issues for Toyota and Stanford in the funding connection?

Pumpkin Shortage: Para-crises still need attention

December 9, 2009

I have to admit up front that I grew up loving pumpkin pie.  It is safe to say I have nieces and nephews who are addicted.  If my mother does not make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no consoling them.  So when news broke in 2009 of a possible shortage, in my family that would be a crisis.  But for Nestle (corporation) and Libby’s (the brand) it is what we can call a para-crisis.  Para can mean like or resembling or subsidiary to.  A para-crisis resembles a crisis but is subsidiary to a true crisis.  You will not assemble the crisis management team for a para-crisis but it does demand some attention and a strategic response from the organization.  Para-crises threaten reputational assets without the potential to disrupt product and/or harm stakeholders.  The reputational threat means that the various crisis communication theories oriented towards reputational concerns play well with para-crises.

The pumpkin pie shortage is a result of two straight years of wet weather that limited the pumpkin crop.  Libby’s represented 80% to 90% of the canned pumpkin market  That is domination of a market.  Most pie makers do use canned so there is the tie to pumpkin pies.  Here is how Libby’s  (Nestle) explained the situation:

Mother Nature has been fickle this year!

Due to poor weather conditions, the pumpkin harvest is smaller than we expected so it may be hard to find LIBBY’S Pumpkin this holiday season. The heavy rains throughout the harvest have made it nearly impossible to pick our pumpkins. That’s because tractors and other equipment are not able to move through the saturated fields.

At LIBBY’S, we’re proud of our quality and we know that you trust us to deliver the best. The longer the pumpkins sit in these muddy fields, the more likely it is the quality of the pumpkin has declined. So we’ve made the difficult decision that we will not pack any more pumpkin this year which means that through the holiday season and until next fall’s harvest, LIBBY’S pumpkin will be hard to find.

Last year’s harvest was a wet one too, so we planted more acres this year, hoping to can more pumpkin. Early in the harvest, it looked like we would have plenty of pumpkin, but Mother Nature had other plans for us. We hope she’s better to us next season, giving us a little less rain and a lot more sunshine because we are already planning to plant even more acres of pumpkins. This way everyone can enjoy as many delicious pumpkin dishes as they want!

Don’t let this news dampen your holiday spirits. If you can’t find LIBBY’S this year, we would like to suggest some delicious alternatives that offer a sweet ending to your Thanksgiving meal.  If you go to the link there is an effective video showing the fields and discussing the problems. 

Oddly, Nestle was working to prevent a shortage.  In 2008, rains hurt the crops but there was enough to get by but not much slack for 2009.  So, Nestle, who controls 85% of the pumpkin crop fields, increased planting to help offset the poor 2008 crop.  So they were thinking ahead but you cannot control the weather,0,5196858.story?track=rss

Of course there is a bright side for others who sell pumpkins, better sales, especially organic pumpkin farmers.  But most customers need the can rather than fresh pumpkins so the shortage possibility exists.  Many grocery chains had signs warning customers pumpkin filing might be hard to find.  Reports seem to indicate that Thanksgiving was oaky but now the fears turn to Christmas.  Will there be enough for the second feast of the holidays?,0,7049581.story

Questions to Consider

  1.  If we consider this a crisis, what type of crisis would it be?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  2. What value is there in Libby talking about how it was prepared to cover the problems of 2008 by increasing its planting in 2009?
  3. What crisis response strategies were Libby’s using?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  4. How effective would you say Libby’s para-crisis response was?  What is the rationale for your judgment?
  5. Does this para-crisis create any need for instructing and/or adjusting information?
  6. What else could Libby’s have done to help manage this para-crisis?

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