Judge and Jury: Milupa came through milk scare with image intact - In the recent baby milk scare, Milupa and the Department of Health did what they had to do, says Judy Larkin, a partner in issues and crisis management consultancy Regester Larkin

A day in politics is supposed to be long time; a week must seem like eternity for worried mothers using Milumil baby milk powder which was pin-pointed as the possible cause of a rare form of salmonella found in 12 babies scattered across the country.

A day in politics is supposed to be long time; a week must seem

like eternity for worried mothers using Milumil baby milk powder which

was pin-pointed as the possible cause of a rare form of salmonella found

in 12 babies scattered across the country.



Two weeks ago, parents swamped 45 helplines set up by Milupa, the

company supplying Milumil, as the product was withdrawn from shop

shelves and a warning issued to throw away all supplies immediately. The

operation followed a food hazard warning issued overnight by the

Department of Health.



The Government’s Public Health Laboratory Service said there could be a

common cause for the cases on the Monday, questioning parents of the 12

babies the next day. Tests were carried out over the next two days

before environmental health officers were warned to prepare to take the

product off the shelves on Thursday night, enabling the public to be

informed on the Friday. The dilemma is this - make an announcement a

moment too soon and the parties involved could have unnecessarily

created a wave of panic without a clear explanation of the actual

position and action required. Communicate a moment too late and the

ultimate crime is committed - a perception that vital information is

being withheld which could affect the lives of many thousands of

babies.



Milupa did what it had to and gave out a clear message - babies first

and company second - and in spite of no evidence of contamination,

Milumil was swiftly withdrawn throughout the UK and Ireland. Health

authorities and company officials issued clear advice, through the media

and helplines about discarding scoops and powder, and identifying

symptoms. Manufacturing was stopped and a company investigation

announced. So far, so good.



Then, as the story unfolded, other things came out. First, the Community

Practitioners and Health Visitors Association criticised the Department

of Health over what it believed was a critical two-day delay in

consulting frontline health professionals and co-ordinating the release

of information.



The counter argument was that until the Friday, there was insufficient

evidence to go on the alert.



Last week’s announcement of the appointment of a food safety chief to

head up a new Food Safety Council to try to restore public confidence is

welcomed. The test will come in the true authority and independence of

such a body.



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