To that end, Dr. Chapman is inviting folks to take photos that demonstrate what they believe to be food safety issues, including positive examples and those perceived as health risks or yuck factors encountered at home, markets, stores and restaurants, and post them to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #citizenfoodsafety. A key tool Dr. Chapman is using to solicit photos is barfblog, a food safety blog (http://barfblog.com) with some 7,000 subscribers to which he regularly contributes commentary, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and podcasts.
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As of mid-December, Dr. Chapman has received about 140 photos from some 40 individuals via Twitter (https://twitter.com/benjaminchapman), Instagram (barfblogben) or email (email@example.com). Photos received to date include apples in an orchard lying on the ground, salads with sprouts, and a dirty toilet at a truck stop.
As Dr. Chapman collects photos from social media sites, he is sharing them indefinitely on a Tumblr site (http://citizenfoodsafety.org).
“Our audience is the online community, which includes all citizens of the eating world, including consumers, students, and food safety proponents,” Dr. Chapman relates. “If we are going to continue to make progress in food safety, we must engage all people who eat, all citizen eaters.”
Using social media, Dr. Chapman is dedicated to sharing evidence-based information to people who are interested in food safety even if they don’t work in that area. “There’s an increased hunger and thirst for food safety information,” he says. “People want to be part of social media so they can get that information for themselves.”
Currently boasting 1,300 followers on his Twitter feed, the savvy Dr. Chapman is quick to admit that he was not quick to join this particular social media phenomenon. “At first, I thought Twitter was kind of dumb,” he admits. “I didn’t see what utility it offered. But as I used Twitter more, I realized this networking system gets news out a lot quicker than other traditional media alerts.”
Social Media Research
Under Dr. Chapman’s leadership, NCSU graduate student Ben Raymond is pursuing a social media research project as part of a Master of Science in Food Science program.
For starters, Raymond is looking at the food safety practices of people featured in cooking videos posted on YouTube and the potential impact of these practices on consumers who view the videos.
“Our hypothesis is that users on YouTube are demonstrating poor food safety practices,” Raymond says. “Since YouTube provides the number of viewers of all videos, we can see how many people may not be learning food safety behaviors that will keep them from getting sick.”
Raymond conducted an online survey to determine how people search for YouTube food safety videos, then he looked at the most relevant videos based on his survey results that revealed where such videos show up in a search and how many views they have.
“Our goal is to see what people are learning online,” Raymond relates. “Unfortunately, it appears they are not learning positive food safety behaviors because cooks in videos are demonstrating risky behaviors. For example, we observed people using a thermometer in only one of 89 videos, and good solid cross contamination was demonstrated in two-thirds of the videos. Only one video told people how to correctly determine if hamburger is done.”
Raymond contends that if you watch a cooking show or demonstration online, any improper temperature the cook uses is not seen on the show. How to use a food thermometer or avoid cross contamination is not explained, so it is unlikely that the viewer will learn positive food safety behaviors watching online cooking videos.
“The conclusion is that people are learning negative behaviors by watching YouTube videos, especially those that demonstrate how to cook hamburgers,” Raymond says, “because the people demonstrating how to prepare hamburgers often cook them rare, not to mention they also make a plethora of other food safety mistakes. The reality is that there is so little awareness of food safety in YouTube videos and sometimes there is even disdain for good food safety practices.”