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Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and the Cyclospora Outbreak: 3 Lessons

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By William Peacock, Esq. on August 09, 2013 1:03 PM

Sometimes, even when it's not your fault, your name can be tarnished. During the recent Cyclospora outbreak, a few of the cases were tied to salad served in Iowa and Nebraska at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants, which are both owned by the Florida-based Darden Restaurants. The source of the lettuce in those restaurants' salad was Taylor Farms de Mexico, reports Fox News.

According to CBS News, as of August 7, there were 504 cases of Cyclospora infection reported to the Centers for Disease Control, most of which were in the Midwest region and which are believed to be connected to bagged salad mix. Cyclospora is a rare parasite that causes flu-like symptoms and long-lasting gastrointestinal issues.

Though Darden restaurants have only been associated with a handful of cases, the fallout is just beginning. Here are a few tips, in case your company faces a similar crisis:

Track and Terminate the Supply Chain

Darden Restaurants seems to have handled this quite well. The implicated products were allegedly tied to Taylor Farms de Mexico and were pulled from the restaurants. The company also notified the public that the infected source had been located and disposed of.

That won't necessarily absolve them from liability for serving tainted lettuce, but it will go a long way towards quickly repairing the public's confidence in the safety of their food supply. Swift action also ensures that the outbreak is limited.

Prepare for Litigation

Obviously, those directly sickened by the restaurant's food will likely sue. And just as predictably, not every lawsuit filed in the matter will be meritorious.

The outbreak, so far, has traversed at least sixteen states, including reported infections in Texas. One of those infected, Suzanne Matteis, is filing suit against Darden Restaurants, reports FindLaw's Injured Blog. Oddly enough, the implicated lettuce used by Olive Garden and Red Lobster in Iowa and Nebraska is not used in their Texas locations.

That leaves a few possible scenarios: the restaurants used a different, also-tainted supply in Texas, Matteis was infected by a different bagged salad source, or the lawsuit is a wee bit frivolous.

With nearly 400 reported cases of Cyclospora nationwide, Darden better prepare itself for an onslaught of plaintiffs looking for someone with deep pockets to blame for their intestinal turmoil.

And not all of those suits will be as questionable as Matteis' claims. Two other plaintiffs, who ate at an Olive Garden in Iowa, and were infected with the parasite, have also filed suit, reports the Des Moines Register.

Control the Narrative

While it may be tempting to try to remain silent about the problem, with today's social media and instantaneous news cycles, it's often better to jump out ahead of the story. The last thing you want is to be trending on Twitter next to the name of an infectious disease.

Darden seems to have done that here. After they located the source of the infectious lettuce, and removed it from their restaurants, they notified the public that they had done so. They also assured the public that they didn't use the infected lettuce, at any time, in other locations, such as Texas, reports NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

While that may not completely resolve the public's confidence in the restaurant chains, it is probably a superior approach to burying one's head in the sand and hoping the story will pass.

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