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Social Media Project Aims to Expand Food-Safety Dialogue

While taking an Instagram picture of that salad you’re about to eat, consider snapping one of the safety information on the menu or the waiter picking his nose, too. Or maybe photograph proper glove and thermometer use to cross-contamination and babies being changed on restaurant tables.

Ben Chapman, assistant professor and food-safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, has launched the Citizen Food Safety project, which calls for anyone to post photos of good or bad food-safety practices to Twitter and Instagram with the tag #citizenfoodsafety. Chapman then collects the pictures at http://citizenfoodsafety.tumblr.com/.

“Lots of people get sick and lots of people are taking precautions — or missing chances — to reduce risks,” Chapman says. “With an estimated 48 million illnesses attributed to foodborne pathogens annually, I hope that the project increases the public discussion and attention related to food safety.”

The project officially started on Sept. 23 when Chapman posted about it on barfblog. So far, there are about 50 pictures on the blog, some of which Chapman has taken himself. He says that curating has been simple so far because of the small size of the collection and that he hopes to eventually categorize pictures based on risk and yuck factors.

Food and public-health voyeurism has been around for a while, Chapman says, adding, “The project became reality with the advent and improvement of smart phones and the rise of the interest in citizen science.”

In his post, Chapman references a 2005 program in South Korea that encouraged diners to take pictures of food-safety infractions in restaurants and submit them to health inspectors who could follow up and potentially fine the establishment. The United Kingdom since launched a similar program, and there have been multiple examples of pests in New York and Toronto shared online.

“Better dialogue around food safety isn’t just about awareness. It’s about increasing the value society puts on working towards producing foods in the safest way,” Chapman says. “More dialogue and more informed shoppers and eaters keeps pressure on everyone to do better.”

© Food Safety News
  • Jen X Willder

    Indeed, we are in a bad way and it will get worse unless there is serious intervention. I have been aghast to see infants and toddlers being plopped down on dining tables in Whole Foods in New York City. Too bad that store management and shift managers and workers are oblivious to the risks and the law–and most importantly, the rationale for the laws. If this goes on at Whole Foods, imagine what goes on in other stores and restaurants. In NYC and beyond, we have a systemic problem that points to a need for public health education. Too bad that NYC’s mayor and health department have focused on bizarre initiatives (soda bans and demonization of urban wildlife) rather than much-needed education about norovirus transmission, safe food handling and preparation, and oral-fecal disease transmission route. Something has to change.