In addition relying on regular media channels to get information out quickly in the event of a foodborne illness, social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook can also play an important role, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.
“In a crisis context, the [social media] framework can be used by health officials, businesses or trade organizations…to help them reach key audiences with informationthat could be used to reduce the risk,”says Dr. Ben Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State.
In a paper published in the July 2014 issue of Perspectives on Public Health, “Potential of social media as a tool to combat foodborne illness,” Chapman and his colleagues also offer guidance, from their review of past studies, that can help health officials and the private sector actively participate in online communities to discuss and explain issues related to food safety and ways to reduce health risks.
“The literature shows us that simply pushing out information isn’t an effective way to change people’s behavior,” Chapman says. “You need to engage in dialogue, and Twitter and Facebook are excellent places to have those conversations.”
For example, Chapman says, food safety experts can use Twitter to search for – and participate in – conversations people are already having about foodborne illness.
Chapman feels his research will help answer some of the questions he gets “about social media and food safety all the time, so there’s a clear demand for this sort of guidance. “But this is a basic framework. The guidance will continue to evolve over time, just as the field of social media itself is constantly evolving.
“The underlying goal is fewer sick people,” adds Dr. Douglas Powell of powellfoodsafety.com, a co-author of the paper. “Twitter wasn’t around 10 years ago but people still got sick. We need to adapt new tools as they arrive to the food safety sphere.”
Perspectives on Public Health, July 2014
Benjamin Chapman and Benjamin Raymond, North Carolina State University
Douglas Powell, powell food safety, Brisbane, QLD, Australia