Communicating food-safety defense risk is a complex endeavor with multiple perspectives, approaches and components. There's no single, standard food-safety defense situation or plan. The affected individuals may live in geographic proximity or be scattered throughout the country. The type of exposure and its extent and potential risks, possible actions that can be taken and so forth are highly variable, and each situation is unique. The best practices outlined in this article present a flexible, multicomponent approach for addressing the public's concerns, establishing trust and producing an informed public that's involved, interested, thoughtful, solution oriented and collaborative.

These unintended consequences of a food crisis illuminate the need for advanced planning, clear strategies, enhanced coordination and risk tools to effectively communicate with the public before, during and after food-safety defense crises. Research and experience show that the key to successful risk communication is for emergency management and public health systems to respond to public perceptions and to establish, maintain and increase their own credibility and therefore the public's trust. This can be accomplished with advanced risk and crisis communication planning, clearly developed strategies and the development and implementation of communication tools and tactics to effectively reach the public before, during and after a food safety or food defense crisis.

Tim Tinker & Vincent Covello  |  Contributing Writers
Tim L. Tinker, a senior associate of Booz Allen Hamilton and a crisis and risk communications expert, is co-director of Booz Allen Hamilton's Center of Excellence for Risk and Crisis Communications. Vincent T. Covello is director of the Center for Risk Communication. The authors can be reached at tinker.timothy@bah.com and vincentcovello@ix.netcom.com.