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Lessons Learned in Crisis Management: Maple Leaf Foods & Choosing Compassion

Jessie Cheveldayoff

While working in the emergency communications industry, it’s difficult to look past all of the scandals, lies, and even deaths. Crisis situations are often made worse due to poor decisions, lack of judgement, and, most importantly, lack of empathy. At the Crisis Communications Institute, we believe that compassion is always the best course of action when communicating to people involved in a tragedy. So, let’s look at a situation that was handled in both a strategic and empathetic manner while communicating efficiently.

In 2008, 22 people lost their lives due to a listeria outbreak at a Maple Leaf Foods plant outside of Toronto. One of the main lessons we can learn from this case study is that we always need to put people first. 

As soon as the listeria cases were confirmed, Maple Leaf Foods didn’t waste any time taking their products off of all shelves. There was no denial of the situation or blame placed on someone or something else. Instead of trying to save their image, they protected their customers and the general public. 

There were human lives lost and mourning family members left behind because of Maple Leaf’s products; they admitted to this mistake and were sincere in their apology. 

President, Michael McCain sat down in an official apology video to offer his condolences and he explained the situation in a clear and sympathetic way. He also took full responsibility for his company’s faults and didn’t try to defend the situation. 

By explaining what happened in a video, people became aware of what happened and what the company was doing to prevent another incident. Furthermore, they provided information to the public via frequent press conferences and their website. Releasing accurate information prevents panic and confusion while spreading awareness about a potential threat. 

The communications conducted by Maple Leaf Foods provided an example of the importance of having an emergency plan in place so that it can be executed as soon as possible. If the company had been disorganized or delayed in its approach, more people could have died because of their product. By taking an honest approach to this tragic scenario, they successfully apologized to the victim’s families which also healed their reputation. 


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