The Organizational and Societal Functions of PR

In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” shook Americans into fervor about their food. The book described the nauseating practices that were commonplace in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, and revealed a picture of where our meat comes from and what happens to it after slaughter and prior to packaging. As a result of the novel, President Theodore Roosevelt passed several food safety laws, one of which established the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, Americans may have felt that their food was now being safely prepared and packaged due to government oversight.Americans are wrong, and have many reasons to be concerned about the foods they consume. (Blackwell, J.; n.d.)

In the following discussion, we will analyze the importance of organizational public relations in the context of recent restaurant food poisoning outbreaks. Further, this author will discuss the societal implications of “Food Poisoning PR”, and elaborate how PR can be an effective tool to mislead the public.

“Three Washington children died and 600 others were sickened due to poisoning from E. coli 0157:H7 served in undercooked Jack In The Box hamburgers.” (Porterfield, E. & Berliant, A.; Jun. 1995. Pg. 1 ¶ 2).

While the 1993 Jack In The Box food poisoning scandal certainly gained notoriety among Americans, many other food poisoning incidences have occurred since. Several years ago, green onions from a particular produce farm were also tainted with E.coli, and the vegetable was pulled from the shelves at groceries and removed from Taco Bell products nationwide.

When prepared foods are the cause of illness or death, and a restaurant is targeted as the origin point of these tainted products, the public begins to fear food. According to Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, being safe and fed are our very basic, primal desires. When our food can kill or injure us, and when we question our ability to make safe choices among food products, this infringes upon our needs for survival. It is safe to say, from a psychological standpoint, that the public has every right to become inflamed, afraid, and angry when we discover our food choices aren’t guaranteed to provide us with basic sustenance.

In the event of a food poisoning scandal, public relations becomes an essential ingredient to maintain a restaurant’s ability to remain in business. As a result of the Jack-In-The-Box E.coli incident, many potential franchisees are still wary of opening up a unit in particular regions of the country – they recognize that the food poisoning outbreak is still recalled by fast food consumers in those areas, who refuse to purchase quick service food items from a Jack-In-The-Box store.

 Jack-In-The-Box had little to base a positive PR campaign upon, however. According to the resulting litigation documented in the The News Tribune, a Tacoma, Washington newspaper, the corporation’s business practices actually contributed to the festering of E. coli in the hamburger meat. The company believed that cooking beef to the recommended 155°F temperature made the meat hard, and often encouraged stores to cook their beef at lower temperatures. (Porterfield, E. & Berliant, A.; Jun. 1995) 

Jack-In-The-Box obviously did not have a talented PR staff to handle the food poisoning scandal, or the company would be more successful and wouldn’t have had so many locations close. During a tragic event such as a food poisoning scare, an effective PR team can assure the public that the company is doing everything possible to locate the cause of the problem; that the company will jointly work with food safety specialists to revise their operations guidelines; that the company will create an extensive employee training program for food safety; and that the company is working diligently to ensure that a food poisoning occurrence is never possible in the future as the company stands for highest-quality foods. 

While this type of PR would have been incredibly effective for the Jack-In-The-Box organization, the PR also has significant societal implications. While a corporation can revise its food preparation guidelines, and tell the public that they are creating a stringent food safety training program for their employees, it seems impossible to avoid food poisoning occurrences. Too many variables are involved in prepared food: its production, its transport, its storage, its preparation, and its packaging.

According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1999, 76 million Americans contract food poisoning each year. This huge statistic presents the conclusion that while the United States may be one of the World’s superpowers, we can’t effectively control the danger imposed by the food we eat. (Stout, D.; Sep.1999).

From a societal standpoint, it seems almost hazardous for a company to promise they will be able to control future food poisoning epidemics. This PR creates the illusion that corporations and the government are actively involved in efforts to make our food safer, and that these efforts are successful.


 Blackwell, J. (n.d.). “1906: Rumble over ‘The Jungle’. The Trentonian. Retrieved online August 18, 2007 from

OutBreak, Inc. (2005). “Jack In The Box E-Coli Litigation”. Retrieved online August 18, 2007 from

Porterfield, E. & Berliant, A. (Jun. 1995). “Jack In The Box Ignored Safety Rules”. The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA). Article located online, and retrieved August 18, 2007 from

Stout, D. (Sep.1999). “Study Puts U.S. Food-Poisoning Toll at 76 Million Yearly”. The New York Times. Retrieved online August 19, 2007 from

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