Food Investigation Response Manual
7.0 Communication

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Introduction

Where a public warning is required, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) coordinates the preparation, translation and transmission of the public warning to the news wire. In certain circumstances, Public Affairs will also provide additional communication products and services.

Public warning documents include Food Recall Warnings, Food Recall Warnings (Allergen), Food Safety Warnings and Mandatory Recalls, all of which are issued to the news wire and posted on the CFIA website.

  • A Food Recall Warning is a warning to consumers advising them not to consume a recalled product that poses a health risk (except allergens).
  • A Food Recall Warning (Allergen) is a warning to consumers advising them not to consume a recalled product because it may contain an undeclared allergen.
  • A Food Safety Warning is a warning to consumers of a health and safety issue where there is no recall. This is for situations in which a recall has not yet been conducted or cannot be conducted. The decision to prepare these documents is made by the Food Safety Communications Manager with input from the OFSR, Media Relations and the Executive Director, Strategic Communications. Advice will also be sought from Health Canada (HC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Mandatory Recall Alerts occur when a company is unable, or refuses, to voluntary recall a product. The Minister of Health has the power to order a mandatory recall if he/she has reasonable grounds to believe that the product poses a health risk to the public. Prior to a mandatory recall, the OFSR may decide to issue a consumer advisory.

A General Advisory can be issued by a program in situations where consumers should be aware of an industry-wide issue or a safety recommendation relating to a food product. This type of advisory is generally not as urgent as a public warning.

7.1 Guiding Principles

  • Food recalls and food related emergencies are a key priority of Public Affairs.
  • Information provided to the public must be timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete.
  • Public Affairs will work in collaboration with our communication partners in food safety, including, but not limited to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada to achieve coherent and effective communications with the public.
  • Public Affairs will work to foster open dialogue with the public on issues involving risk and build a climate of trust, credibility and understanding by being open and transparent about food safety issues and recalls, including facts, evidence and information.

7.2 Process, Roles and Responsibilities

References:

Public Warning Templates:

CFIA Website

7.2.1 Public Warning Process

  1. The OFSR
    • Notifies the Recall Communications Advisor that there is a recall and provides background information; and
    • Prepares and forwards a draft public warning.
  2. The Recall Communications Advisor:
    • Sends a "heads up" E- mail to the Privy Council Office, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Public Affairs staff including: Media Relations, Ministerial and Corporate Communications, the Surge Capacity Unit, the Manager of Food Safety, the Executive Director, Strategic Communications and Web Operations;
    • Reviews the draft public warning and provides strategic communications advice on messaging;
    • Determines, in cooperation with the Food Safety Manager, whether additional communications products are required;
    • Works with the OFSR to revise the public warning as appropriate;
    • Incorporates changes and forwards a copy of the revised public warning to the OFSR;
    • Forwards the revised public warning to the translator; and
    • Once the translation is completed, forwards the English and French drafts to the OFSR for review and approval.
  3. The OFSR sends the public warning to the Lead Investigator, The Lead Investigator:
    • Reviews the public warning and liaises with the recalling firm to determine if any corrections are necessary;
    • Requests that the recalling firm initials and dates the news release when possible, upon review of the public warning; and
    • Forwards a copy of the initialed and dated public warning to the OFSR when applicable.
  4. When changes are requested by the lead investigator, which are approved by the OFSR:
    • The OFSR incorporates the changes and sends the revised version to the Recall Communications Advisor; and
    • The Recall Communications Advisor reviews the draft to ensure the appropriate messaging and sends the revised version to the translator to make the required adjustments.
  5. The OFSR approves the final English and French public warning.
  6. Distribution of the public warning is as follows:
    • The Recall Communications Advisor sends the public warning to the newswire.
    • The release is distributed across the country, to specific provinces, and/or selected media outlets depending on where the product has been sold;
    • The Recall Communications Advisor sends the public warning to Web Operations and the CFIA Webmaster. The CFIA Webmaster posts the public warning on the CFIA's website and sends it electronically to list serve subscribers for food recalls;
    • The OFSR distributes the public warning to its list of contacts; and
    • The Recall Advisor may send the final public warning to the "heads-up" lists in the event of a high profile recall.

In cases where the recalling firm decides to draft their own release, the OFSR will communicate with the firm and forward the public warning to the Recall Communications Advisor for review to ensure that promotional languages do not deter from the warning. If the recalling firm's public warning does not communicate the appropriate messages, the OFSR will draft a new separate public warning.

7.3 Public Warning Content

The standard content for a public warning includes:

  • Brand name;
  • Common name;
  • Size;
  • Lot, best before date, code;
  • UPC code, where possible;
  • Photo of label, if available;
  • Description of the problem;
  • Illnesses, if there have been any;
  • Media relations contact information;
  • Distribution;
  • The name of the manufacturer, importer and/or distributor, if deemed to be beneficial information;
  • Consumer information contact number;
  • Information on the recall database; and
  • The CFIA website address.

Note: Where the distribution of the affected product is unknown a statement such as "may have been distributed across Canada" may be substituted to allow for timely distribution of the public warning.

7.4 Supporting Communications Products

7.4.1 Media Lines and Questions and Answers

Most recalls do not require media lines since the public warning provides the necessary information; however, media lines and/or questions and answers (Q&As) may be required for high profile or complex issues.

These would be used as guidance for the OFSR spokesperson and media relations to respond to media queries and public enquiries received via the 1-800 number of the CFIA web site.

In such cases, the Food Safety Communications Manager makes the recommendation that media lines and Q&As be prepared, and decides whether they are needed at the time of the recall or the next day. The Recall Communications Advisor prepares the media lines and Q&As, if they are needed urgently. Otherwise, the Food Safety Communication Advisor responsible for the issue will prepare them the next business day.

The National Manager of the Food Safety Investigation Recall (FSIR) can also request media lines to help determine messaging on high profile or complex food recalls.

Media Lines and questions and answers relating to recalls are approved by the Food Safety Communications Manager and the Executive Director, Strategic Communications. They are then provided to the Manager, Media Relations and the Manager, Web Operations for dissemination.

High profile or complex issues for which media lines and Q&As should be considered include, but are not limited to:

  • A mandatory recall;
  • The recall of a product that is consumed by an at-risk population;
  • An expanded recall or outbreak;
  • Reports of serious illness, injury, adverse reactions or death; and
  • Consumer advisories on food safety risks.

7.4.2 Media Queries and Spokespersons

When media contacts the CFIA Media Relations Office regarding a food safety recall, Media Relations will:

  • List the reporter's questions and contact information; and
  • Inform the applicable CFIA senior executives and managers, the Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office of the media request.

If the reporter's questions are related to a specific recall, Media Relations will contact the OFSR at their emergency on-call telephone number to respond to the reporter. If a request for interview volume for a certain recall is high, Media Relations may organize a conference call with several media at once and sit in on that conference call along with the OFSR. Media Relations may also be present for the OFSR interviews that are on-camera.

If questions relate to policy around recalls or other regulatory policy questions, the Media Relations Officer will manage the query in cooperation with the appropriate subject matter expert in the Policy and Programs Branch.

7.4.3 Public Inquiries

  1. Upon final receipt of the public warning, the communications advisor who is on recall duty sends the final English and French versions to the original "heads-up" list as noted in Section 7.2.1.
    • In situations where media lines, Q&As, or other relevant communications products have been developed, the communications advisor on recall duty also sends those products to the "heads-up" list along with the public warning.
  2. The Web Operations sends the public warning and all other relevant communications products (in both languages) to their point of contact at Service Canada, which manages the CFIA 1-800 public inquiries line.
  3. Web inquiries through the CFIA Webmaster account are handled as follows, depending on the nature of the inquiry:
    • Routine questions are answered through the CFIA Webmaster within 24 hours, using approved messaging from the public warning or other relevant communications products; and
    • Detailed questions that go beyond the scope of the approved communications products are forwarded by the CFIA to the Area Recall Coordinator. The spokesperson answers the E-mail inquiry directly within 48 hours, copying the CFIA Webmaster and the Manager of Food Safety Communications.

Public Affairs will coordinate the development of information for the 1-800 and web inquiries with input from the OFSR. In an outbreak or other high profile situation, the viability of using existing 1-800 lines and the need for additional staff resources and expanded hours of service will be considered. Depending on the issue's scope and duration and the volume of enquiries received, Public Affairs may make the decision to hire additional staff for Service Canada or develop a dedicated 1-800 line.

7.4.4 Other Communications Products

In extraordinary circumstances, other communications products and activities may be considered by Public Affairs. These could include:

  • Website landing page;
  • Direct communication to at-risk populations;
  • On-line fact sheets;
  • News releases;
  • Frequently asked questions;
  • Translation into languages other than English and French; and
  • Media teleconference or press conference.

The decision to prepare these products is made by the Food Safety Communications Manager with input from the OFSR, the Manager, Media Relations, and the Executive Director, Strategic Communications. Advice will also be sought from Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

7.4.5 Class II and III Recalls

As of November 16, 2009, the CFIA began putting information on Class I, II and III recalls in a Food Recall database on its website.

This information includes:

  • CFIA reference number;
  • Name of recalling firm;
  • Date of recall;
  • Recall classification;
  • Distribution;
  • Extent of distribution;
  • Brand name;
  • Common name;
  • Size;
  • UPC codes;
  • Other codes; and
  • Reason for recall.

This information is available and searchable, similar to public recall alerts. The data remains on the CFIA website for a five year period.

It is the responsibility of the Food Safety Recall Specialist, OFSR, to enter this information in the food recall data base within one business day of the initiation of the recall.

7.4.6 Class II and III Allergen Recalls

As of February 24, 2011, the CFIA began sending e-mail notification for Class I, II and III allergen recalls to e-mail subscribers. Prior to this, the CFIA posted information on all Class I, II and III recalls in a food recall database on its website.

The body of the email includes:

  • Recall classification;
  • Reason for recall (allergen);
  • Product(s);
  • Name of recalling firm;
  • Distribution; and
  • Hyperlink to web posting.

This information is available and searchable, similar to public recall alerts. The data remains on the CFIA website for a three year period.

It is the responsibility of the Food Safety Recall Specialist, OFSR, to enter this information in the food recall database within one business day of the recall.

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