The little-known Fort Worth meat company that recalled nearly 16,000 pounds of beef could hurt its image, experts say, by not quickly identifying all the stores and restaurants in three states and Puerto Rico that bought meat possibly contaminated with E. coli.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the recall Tuesday and designated PFP Enterprises President Jim Pieper as the contact, but he has declined to comment. USDA said it cannot compel a private company to respond to media requests for information.
Without referring to the PFP case, crisis PR specialist Bill Zucker of Ketchum, who works with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said it’s not unusual for small firms to be overwhelmed by the demands of a high-profile recall. Ideally, he said, a food company’s recall preparedness should include a media plan, with a dedicated staff trained to lead the public communications process.
The only buyers identified so far — Kroger and Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill — became known only after they were contacted by reporters.
Kristal Howard, in Kroger’s Houston office, said the grocer carried a single PFP item, Mexican-style fajita meat with a “use-by” date of Jan. 11. “It’s important to note this item has not been on our shelves in a considerable amount of time, considering the use-by date,” she said.
Lynne McQuaker of Studio Movie Grill said all sliced tenderloin from PFP had been removed and no illnesses reported.
PFP’s registered agent is Lucas Melott, who is chief financial officer of a Dallas meat company named Patterson Food Processors. Melott declined to say whether the two firms are related or answer other questions. According to its website, Patterson is owned by Michael and Matt Schirato
McQuaker said Patterson Food Processors “has been handling this very seriously.”
Recalls are not necessarily a bad thing for a company’s image, if handled right, Zucker said. “They are usually a sign that the system is working. Companies, working with USDA and FDA, have become better at detecting issues and protecting consumers.”
Another crisis PR expert, Charles Sanger of Charleston\Orwig, said in a recent report that companies too often “default to a bunker mentality” to wait out the media storm.
“This can be a critical, if not fatal, error, particularly in the 21st century communications landscape in which we all operate,” he said. “This all is magnified in the food system, where issues often are related to food safety and take the form of recalls of food products, at times with associated risks to human health,” Sanger wrote.