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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

What is a Customer?

IMG_0185.jpgA commenter on an earlier post said: “do you think companies want to make people sick and lose millions of dollars???”  I think the easy answer is to say of course not.  But, in my experience, few of the food companies that I have sued in the last 18 years viewed their customer like this:

A Customer is the most important person ever in this office … in person or by mail.

A Customer is not dependent on us … we are dependent on him.

A Customer is not an interruption of our work … he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him … he is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.

A Customer is not an outsider to our business … he is a part of it.

A Customer is not a cold statistic … he is a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and emotions like your own, and with biases and prejudices.

A Customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. Nobody ever won an argument with a customer.

A Customer is a person who brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.

Author Unknown

By the way,  I found the above on the wall of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) factory in Blakely, Georgia after getting a court ordered inspection.  Clearly, the management of PCA, whose Salmonella-tainted peanuts sickened over 700 and killed nine, cared little about their customers.

And, remind me why Stewart Parnell, President of PCA, is not in jail?

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Sadly Mr. Parnell is what, a food consultant? What? Come again? Perhaps he could cosult on NOT what to do in food production? Just an idea. But seriously, I did not know you found this “customer” description at PCA. That is very sad. I’m sure someone cared about the customer but management/ownership certainly proved that they did not or were just plain ignorant. Ignorance in food production will hopefully now be unacceptable with the new Food Safety Bill. One can only hope.

  • Presenting Customer statements and having the proper documentation such as HACCP, Sanitation records, SSOP’s and so on mean little If you do not adhere to those standards. Neglectful individuals such as Stewart Parnell do not represent everyone in the industry. People like Mr. Parnell make the headlines in a society where minute to minute news cycles rule the land. He was well aware of the dirty and/or corrupt condition in his facility and should be held accountable, but let me re-state should not represents the food industry. The vast majority of the food consumed in the United States is done so safetly given that people properly handle the food once it is brought into their homes.
    Mr. Marler, you well know that companies you have litigated against range form industry leaders that do billions in business with million dollar Q.A budgets, peform extensive pathogen testing, have proper 3rd party audited paperwork and have individuals with doctorate degress in food safety/microbiology still have large foodborne outbreaks.
    Why does this occur and what does it say about the food industry??

  • With all due respect Chris, you seem to have the snarky answers, please enlighten us all.

  • John Munsell

    Profit is the bottom line, which drives production decisions. For example: if a high-speed beef slaughter plant is owned by, let’s say, a multinational concern, whose profits are millions or billions annually, and the multinational experiences a recall and/or outbreak, and spends $ 10 million in damages and legal fees, the $ 10 million is peanuts (no pun intended PCA) compared to annual profits. To remain competitive, the company must maintain high chain speeds, and an accepted residual risk is an occasional outbreak and legal fees.
    Such plants do not intentionally sicken consumers, but knowingly allow less-than-superlative conditions to exist on their high chain speed kill floors.
    So, and I hate to admit this, if profits can still be protected AFTER damages and legal fees, then yes, it pays to allow a few consumers to be sickened.
    John Munsell

  • Doc Mudd

    John Munsell’s point, “Profit is the bottom line, which drives production decisions.” is well taken but that is a size-neutral phenomenon. This producer attitude is not exclusive to “mulitnational concerns”, by any means. Indeed, as we learned from ‘small farmer’ objections during the S.510 debate, small producers aggressively protect their profits and are quick to cut corners with fierce indifference to consumer safety. The recent Sally Jackson Cheese outbreak is a clear example.
    The credo “What is a Customer?” really does need to be taken to heart by food producers of all sizes in all localities selling into all markets. Taking customers for granted is expensive. Poisoning customers and getting caught doing so is even more expensive. As it should be.
    I agree with John that food producers do not intentionally sicken customers. Perhaps a few take the risk after calculating that fines and settlements might be less costly than operating responsibly. Probably most simply expect never to encounter a ‘problem’ and expect never, ever to be identified and singled out as the responsible party. Certainly, many risk-taking small producers assume they will bluster or charm their way out of a scrape…or simply plead ignorance as a defense. Of course, ignorance (commonplace and popular as it is) is no defense in the courtroom.