Only if you live behind a rock you don’t know about the Fonterra milk powder scandal. I don’t want to analyse or discuss the potential or actual impact on the industry or New Zealand’s reputation with its international partners. There are sufficient of these in the media.
No, I want to look at the action or non-action between the incident itself that caused the contamination and the information of the public.
May 2012: a dirty pipe caused 38 tonnes of whey to be contaminated. As far as I can find the seriousness of the contamination is either not known or not understood. 20 tonnes of the product is delivered to 8 Fonterra customers. 18 tonnes are stored. Although, a further investigation has been triggered because of a “potential quality issue“.
March 2013: 10 months after the event Fonterra prepared to use the remainder of the contaminated product. This time tests showed a serious problem. Botulism was not yet mentioned. However, a question about either the rigour of the testing (it was the same batch that was cleared for sale) or the judgement of the accountable manager must be raised. At least this time the person in charge followed through and triggered further tests.
31 July 2013: It is clear that the lethal strain Clostridium Botulinum is in the contamination. According to Fonterra they informed the 8 customers of the initial May 2012 delivery immediately. Taking into account that it can take up to 10 days to be sure it is Clostridium Botulinum, I have to ask why it took more than 4 months (!) for Fonterra!?
up to 6 August 2013: Slowly the news became clearer for New Zealanders and people in other countries including which end products are affected. Parents of infants and babies are at high alert what product are safe to use. Fonterra’s senior management apologised to NZ and the World. Too little too late? Or just lucky that no one died? 90% of the contaminated product has been recalled or contained. The dirty pipe was destroyed. I couldn’t find confirmation that the remaining 10% were recalled, contained, or destroyed.
The lessons (so far)
- Quality control is best done at the source. Every Quality Manager knows that. Every Operations Manager, too. Short cuts have a nasty habit to bite back. (see slide 56 for reference)
- If in doubt, check again. Or as my uncle (a builder) said, “measure twice, cut once”. The assumption “she’ll be alright” is wrong – especially when lives are at risk.
- Once you know you made a mistake earlier, correct at once and advise all stakeholders. The longer you wait, the bigger the mess.
- Review existing and implement appropriate measures (training, authority, communication, processes, quality control, …) that prevent further occurrences and talk honestly about it.
- Respect your customer today, tomorrow and in the distant future. Trust is built over time but lost in a second.
- Complete and close the incident. Let your customers know.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet