The cost of the listeriosis crisis

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has reached a $27 million nationwide settlement with plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit resulting from last summer's listeriosis outbreak, which was responsible for at least 20 deaths.

The company (and in particular CEO Michael McCain) was applauded for its frank, open communications approach throughout the crisis. At the time, McCain was quoted as saying, "Lesson number one is focus on doing what's right for your customers and don't focus so much on the accountants and the lawyers."

The company's PR approach, ably handled by Toronto's Fleishman-Hillard, was a modern take on Tylenol's handling of its product tampering scare back in 1982. Threatened with the potential demise of its company, Tylenol pulled all of its product from every shelf in the United States, putting the public's best interests before the bottom line. That crisis changed the way over-the-counter drugs were packaged, leading to the introduction of the tamper-proof plastic wrap on the caps of such bottles.

Maple Leaf's response was bang on, both from an operational and PR standpoint. The $27 million dollar settlement sounds significant, but bear in mind this is a company with 2007 sales of $5.2 billion. And because it responded decisively, the company has solidified its future, having regained the trust of many Canadians who might have had temporary doubt about the safety of the company's products.

Read more about the settlement on the CBC's website.

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