During a food related crisis or incident, rapid, concise and clear communication is essential to manage the crisis and protect consumers. EFSA, which was set up in response to a series of food crises in the late 1990s, has now published recommendations for communicating during a crisis that can serve as a reference for the national food safety authorities of EU Member States.
EFSA created the guidelines together with EU Member States based on best practices gained from previous food-related crises. Developed in cooperation with members of EFSA’s Advisory Forum Communications Working Group, this document will help ensure consistency and coherence when communicating in a crisis.
Best practice for crisis communicators: How to communicate during food or feed safety incidents also clearly explains the role and responsibilities of EFSA and Member State organisations during the various phases of a crisis to improve preparedness for any future outbreaks that may cross borders.
The document describes the different phases of an incident and provides step-by-step guidance for effective communication activities. The best-practice advice centres on important principles such as:
- Taking control of communicating about a situation.
- Communicating quickly to protect human health.
- Identifying target audiences and the tools to reach them.
- Communicating clearly and transparently.
- Collaborating with partners because food-related crises do not stop at international borders.
Preparedness is a crucial precondition for effective crisis communication. That is why the guidelines include recommendations on how to prepare for a possible crisis. Such preparations include identifying and agreeing rules and procedures well before a possible crisis emerges as well as training potential spokespersons.
Putting the guidelines to the test
In November 2015, EFSA carried out a simulation exercise with representatives of EU Member States, the European Commission and the World Health Organization. Their feedback was incorporated into the final version of the guidelines.
Shira Tabachnikoff, an international cooperation adviser at EFSA, said: “Preparation and cooperation are key elements to successfully communicating during a crisis. The simulation exercise brought home the need for a strong network and clear processes. These guidelines will prove useful if and when they are needed.”
The crisis communication guidelines include templates such as a practical checklist, a media inquiry log and a social media comments log.