Listeria Hysteria: Jeni’s Ice Cream a Model Example for Crisis Communication


jenisA crisis can happen to any organization, whether you are prepared or not. While it is easy to say, “That will never happen to us,” it is extremely important to understand that it CAN happen to you. And there are positive and negative ways to handle a crisis situation. While we highly recommend that every organization anticipates crises and emplaces a crisis communication strategy, this is usually not the top priority on every organization’s to-do list. The following will help you determine how to handle any type of crisis.

The first step after a crisis has been identified is to ask, ‘What are the facts?’ Take, for example, the recent Listeria outbreak in Blue Bell and Columbus-based Jeni’s ice cream. At some point last week, Jeni’s received word from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture that one of their randomly-tested pints had tested positive for Listeria Monocytogenes. At that point in time, that was the only fact. Jeni’s did not know the reason for the outbreak, nor did they know of any human illnesses due to the contamination. They simply knew that a randomly-tested pint of their ice cream had tested positive.

Once the facts are determined, it is important to ask, ‘Who needs to know?’ In many situations, only a select few people will need to know, and in others, a larger group will need to know. I could not tell you what happened behind the closed doors at Jeni’s, but they made the decision to inform everyone, from key stakeholders to their devoted consumers On Thursday, April 23, Jeni’s posted on their website, regional Facebook pages, and Twitter account that the Listeria had been discovered in one of their pints, and initiated a voluntary recall in all flavors and containers for safety precaution.

Jeni’s made the correct decision to quickly address the problem and provide a solution by recalling their products. This swift plan of action ensured that no one would fall ill due to a contamination of their frozen products.

It is extremely important to continuously update your followers with the latest news. Jeni’s has continued to update the general public with the most recent information. On Friday, April 24, after swab-testing, CEO John Lowe announced that Listeria had been found in the Jeni’s kitchen in Columbus, Ohio. He revealed that they had devised “an extensive cleaning and eradication plan” to rid the kitchen of Listeria. This announcement followed with another reminder about the seriousness of the matter, and urged consumers to dispose of any Jeni’s products.

In extraordinary crisis communication fashion, Jeni’s has sustained conversation with consumers. A release on Tuesday, April 28 announced the incredible financial impact the voluntary recall would have on the organization, a sum nearing 2.5 million dollars. Yet the announcement remained positive, thanking the Jeni’s community for the level of support they have received during this frustrating time.

Jeni’s provided a model example of how to communicate in a crisis situation. They determined the facts, decided who to inform, and went above and beyond the legal requirements necessary. Their commitment to the safety of consumers is unwavering and the community seems to appreciate the diligence. Comments on the Jeni’s Facebook Page are extremely positive, and a recent poll by Columbus Business First determined that when Jeni’s returns, over 75 percent of consumers would buy just as much Jeni’s ice cream as before. Hopefully, it will not be long until the Listeria crisis is over, and Jeni’s can return to what they do best: making delicious frozen products.

To learn more about the Listeria crisis and the organization’s response, please visit Jeni’s website.


Matt Balzer • May 1, 2015

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