Amid listeria outbreak, Colorado farm should communicate often and honestly

A journalist turned crisis communication expert shares his advice for helping the farm responsible for the outbreak handle the media onslaught.

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Since then, this cantaloupe farm located in a fertile valley in Southern Colorado has become the center of a national news story and the focus of numerous lawsuits. The listeria outbreak linked to the farm has caused up to 16 deaths and sickened people in 18 states, making it the deadliest foodborne outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.

As this farm weathers a crisis that seems far from over, here are some best practices to help manage the escalating media onslaught.

Hire a crisis communication PR firm. This is not a shameless pitch for our industry, but rather common-sense advice for farmers who may not be adept at dealing with reporters who don’t know a cantaloupe from an artichoke.

Create crisis messaging. These points can be shared with the media and customers, explaining what the farm is doing about the outbreak and how the contamination might have come about. Also, be sure to include information from the CDC about the bacteria and symptoms.

Keep the information flowing. If the CDC makes a finding, immediately share the information with the public.

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