Crisis Management Case Study: Fast Food Contaminated With E.coli


Though identifying details including names and locations have been changed, the following is a real-life case study based on Bernstein Crisis Management client experiences.

The Crisis

“We have traced the probable source of E. Coli that is sickening people in Dallas, TX to one of your restaurants.”

That’s the call Fish & Fries franchise service center in Sacramento, CA received from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). DSHS also informed the franchise operator that some half-dozen people were already confirmed ill and the common factor for all of them was eating at a particular Fish & Fries location.

The Response

The franchisor went into immediate, established procedures for quarantining all product that might even possibly have been a source of the contamination. In addition to responding to questions and directions from DSHS, Fish & Fries engaged in an aggressive lobbying campaign to privately test the suspect source food (lettuce).

There was extensive media interest. As Fish & Fries on-call crisis management firm, we helped to strategize, create and disseminate communication to relevant parties. The CEO received some media coaching and then flew to Dallas to make in-person appearances at the affected restaurant, at other nearby franchise locations, for media interviews, etc. His presence on-site was very well received.

The franchise service center was well aware that most of the public focus would remain on them, not on the grower who sold them the contaminated product, and behaved accordingly. They focused on coming across as compassionate, confident and competent and, as a result, the “news cycle” on this event, despite dozens of people ultimately falling ill, was barely three days long.

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