Despite airport closures, the audience stayed on to hear the latest reformulation initiatives. I quickly joined forces with five other delegates to organise a road trip back to London. Our crisis management training kicked in. Trains were fully booked so we acted fast before Avis ran out of vehicles. Ferry tickets were scarce. Ten hours later we were back at Heathrow.
I must admit, it was quite good fun. At a pit stop in Brussels, we emerged from a service station with sugary drinks, salty snacks and fatty confectionery quite amusing given the nature of the conference! But the take home message is 'expect the unexpected'. Only training, experience and quick thinking will get you out of a crisis. This brings me on to dealing with crises in the food chain.
The European Commission was so concerned about the possible contamination of the food chain with fluorine-rich volcanic ash that it asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to investigate. Thankfully EFSA made this statement: "Based on the available information, the potential risk posed by this volcanic ash fall through contamination of drinking water, vegetables, fruit, fish, milk, meat and feed is regarded as negligible in the EU, which is outside the immediate proximity of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano."
But, in addition to Sudan 1, dioxins, avian flu, nut contamination, E.coli, Salmonella and BSE, the food industry may now have to worry about 'Acts of god'. At Leatherhead's Ultimate Crisis Management conference in July, speakers will present case studies to demonstrate how industry has coped with such incidents. Who knows, the crisis management presentations may even come in handy if you're ever forced to make contingency travel plans without an aeroplane!
Dr Paul Berryman is chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research