Taco Bell Gets Its Recall Right

Restaurant Chain Responds to Contaminated Beef Crisis with Speed and Transparency         

10/21/19 – – There’s a classic Vaudeville skit that goes something like this: A customer sitting at a table in a restaurant calls out, “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” To which the waiter replies, “Quiet . . . everyone will want one.” 

In most crisis situations, corporations (much like the waiter above) go to great lengths to limit the media coverage of their predicament. Makes sense. Media scrutiny during trying times threatens the brand and can make it much more difficult for a company to sort things out. That logic does not hold, however, when it comes to safety-related product recalls. Those are no jokes, and when they happen, broad initial exposure is a primary communications goal. 

We witnessed a great example of that last week when Taco Bell recalled 2.3 million pounds of the seasoned beef served in its restaurants. Within hours of several customers finding metal shavings in their tacos and burritos, the company had identified the meat supplier, halted the supply chain, pulled the beef off the menus of affected stores and notified the USDA. Press releases alerting consumers to the recall were issued by Taco Bell and the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

In the company’s announcement, which was posted on Taco Bell’s website and social media platforms, Julie Masino, President of North America, Taco Bell Corp., emphasized, “Nothing is more important than our customers’ safety, and nothing means more to us than their trust.” Featured prominently in the release were a number of touch points for consumers, reporters and health officials wanting more information:

Consumers with questions should call 1-800-TACOBELL (1-800-822-6235). Customer service representatives will be available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Pacific Time. News media and health department officials who have questions should contact the Taco Bell Media Line at 949-863-3915 or media@tacobell.com.

In Chapter 19 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Dealing with Product Recalls”), we focus on the singular goal of communications during a recall: public safety. If a product is contaminated, get it off grocery store shelves and out of people’s refrigerators. If an electrical device can start fires, get it out of the hands of consumers. If a defective toy can injure or kill toddlers, get the warning in front of parents now.

It’s no disgrace for a company to admit a problem and reach out to the public for help in addressing it. Just visit the website Racalls.gov and you’ll see dozens of products listed under the site’s categories of consumer products, motor vehicles, boats, food, medicine, cosmetics and environmental products. Of course you should do whatever you can to keep your company’s product off those lists. But if it ever is, you’ll be in good company. The disgrace and brand erosion come if you ignore a problem, avoid media coverage and leave the consumer vulnerable to harm.

Thanks to Taco Bell’s speedy response and transparency, their recall appears to have been a success.

The USDA has confirmed that there have been no additional consumer complaints or reports of any “adverse reactions” to the unwanted ingredient. Media coverage and online discussion all but disappeared after 48 hours. And a  Taco Bell representative told Business Insider, “While some Taco Bell restaurants in the eastern Midwest and Northeast regions may be experiencing a shortage of seasoned beef, we are working diligently to replenish the supply in those restaurants and encourage fans to try any of our other delicious proteins like shredded chicken or steak in the meantime. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause and appreciate our customers’ patience.”

Well done, Taco Bell.




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