His project data analysis is in progress, but based on his research to date, Raymond believes that, if you see a cooking video online you should consider that the practices are likely not healthy. So, he wonders, how do you convince the public that what they are seeing is not best for consumers?
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“What can be done to address this issue is a challenge,” Raymond emphasizes. “How to use social media to reach an audience with positive food safety messages is not always understood. We can make a great video, but can we get anyone to watch it? That’s our task.”
Raymond is also engaging online “mommy bloggers” relative to the subject of norovirus. “I am trying to organize and conduct a focus group of these bloggers,” he says. “I have to determine who they are, what their interests and priorities are, how to reach out to them and what I want them to know about norovirus.”
Raymond hopes to convey how norovirus goes through a school, what can be done about it, how the virus can be spread to high risk groups, how to mitigate the risks, and how to clean up after an outbreak.
To that end, he is looking at the impact of online messaging campaigns. “Foremost, mommy bloggers are concerned about the often emotional topics of children’s health and well-being,” Raymond says. “So researchers need to identify knowledge gaps and the best ways to fill them. I suggest that researchers need to learn the soft, fuzzy stuff first, especially in this instance, before moving onto more traditional research methods.”
Disseminating food safety messages online is really about outreach and fostering a sense of trust, Raymond advises. ”Social media helps food safety professionals get the message out to others not reachable by other media,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there watching this stuff.”
Getting involved with social media yourself is the first step in sharing ideas and information to this audience, Raymond emphasizes. “To get started, sign up for a Twitter account,” he recommends. “I was hesitant at first but I made the leap. I sometimes find myself spending too much time on Twitter, but overall it has proven to be entertaining and useful. I learn about current events, be it a food recall, or natural disaster, on Twitter, well before most other media sources. Finding the right people to follow and learning the nuances of the service are key to enhancing your experience.”
Expanding Government Reach
A “one-stop shop” for consumer information on food safety sums up www.foodsafety.gov, the gateway to food safety information provided by government agencies.
The USDA, FDA, and CDC collaboratively provide this vibrant consumer-friendly site that employs a number of social media tools to distribute food safety messages to diverse audiences.
Along with Facebook and Twitter, the agencies employ dynamic technologies that include e-cards, YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs, Web pages optimized for mobile phones, text messaging services, email alerts, and widgets.
“Social media from FSIS’ standpoint is really about customer service,” says Catherine Cochran, a public affairs specialist with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “These platforms allow us to listen and deliver food safety messages to the public in real time and in ways that people are used to receiving information. Mobile services, like our Ask Karen app and mobile website, are becoming a major priority as we continue to improve our public health communications with consumers.”
Leake is a food safety consultant, auditor and award-winning journalist based in Wilmington, N.C. Reach her at LLLeake@aol.com.
Food Safety’s Social Media Presence
- Foodsafety.gov’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov and its Twitter feed is located at https://twitter.com/foodsafetygov.
- USDA’s food safety Twitter feed is located at https://twitter.com/USDAFoodSafety.
- FDA’s food safety Twitter feed is located at https://twitter.com/FDAfood.
- CDC’s Twitter feed, which includes food safety topics, is located at https://twitter.com/CDCgov.
- Food Quality & Safety magazine’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/FoodQualityandSafety.