From perfectly plated dishes to mouthwatering recipe tutorials, media has become an undeniable force shaping our relationship with food. While platforms like TikTok and Instagram can be valuable tools for sharing and gaining about safe food handling practices [3], they can also facilitate the rapid spread of false or information, potentially leading to harmful practices [9]. 

This article unravels the complex relationship between social media and food safety, exploring how digital platforms influence perceptions and practices. By understanding the nuances of this digital landscape, food safety experts and consumers alike can gain valuable insights and strategies for responsibly navigating the abundance of online information.

How Social Media Promote Food Safety  

Digital platforms have transformed how we access and share information, and food safety is no exception. With real-time updates, anecdotes, and engaging discussions at their fingertips, individuals are increasingly turning to social media for guidance on safe food handling practices. The widespread adoption of these platforms is evident in a 2021 USDA survey, which revealed that 82% of state food safety agencies utilize social media for both general and announcements (Figure 1) [8].

social media
Figure 1: Social Media Utilization Among State Food Safety Agencies (n=20): Examining platform usage for general communication and recall announcements [8] 

Foodborne Illness Detection – Can Social Media Play Detective? 

Foodborne illness outbreaks remain a significant public health concern, affecting millions worldwide. While traditional surveillance methods rely on healthcare data, the potential of social media as a real-time outbreak detection tool is increasingly being recognized. 

Large-scale social media data, such as that collected from “X” (formerly Twitter), has shown promise, by aligning with ground truth data reported by the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), as illustrated in Figure 2. This demonstrates the potential for social media platforms to potentially allow for earlier detection and faster response to outbreaks [7].

Figure 2: Graph displaying the 15 most frequent food entities found in collected tweets (a) and NORS data (b) from 2017-2021 [7] 

Social Media Use – a Positive Impact on Perceived Risk  

Perceived risk, shaped by an individual's understanding of potential negative outcomes, plays a crucial role in consumer choices and food safety practices. Studies suggest a potential link between increased social media use and heightened food safety risk perception, indicating that those who engage more frequently with these platforms may be more attuned to potential .

Social media provide a low-barrier entry point for learning about food safety concerns, Furthermore, social media accessibility, interactivity, and ease of information sharing, all contribute to capturing consumers' attention and raising awareness about food safety [6].

Bridging the Knowledge Gap and Building Trust  

Research links social media use with increased trust in science [1], highlighting its potential to foster transparency and trust in the food industry. Open communication channels on platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow producers and regulators to directly engage with consumers, for , by announcing recalls in real time. This builds trust and shared for food safety. Additionally, social media provides researchers with valuable data on consumer behaviour, enabling targeted educational interventions [5].

Challenges and Pitfalls  

Social media's unprecedented access to information has the potential to benefit all stakeholders in the food chain, from consumers to producers, experts, and food safety authorities. However, the effective use of social media for sharing food safety information is not without its challenges:

  • Diverse Audiences: Tailoring messages to different demographics
  • Reliable Data: Filtering and extracting insights from unstructured data
  • Data : Combating misinformation and verifying information
  • Algorithmic Bias: Social media algorithms can create filter bubbles [9]

Fake Food News

The very features that make social media a powerful communication tool—high engagement and instant two-way communication—also make it vulnerable to the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation [1]. Anyone can become a self-proclaimed “food expert,” regardless of their credentials. QAssurance's survey (Figure 3) reveals that many consumers don't verify the food information they receive, further amplifying the potential harm of false narratives.

Figure 3: Pie chart illustrating the % of consumers that verify the information they receive about the food they are about to purchase/they have purchased [QAssurance, 2024] 

Consequences of Misinformation on Social Media

Consequently, social media becomes a breeding ground for food safety misinformation and disinformation, fueled by anecdotal evidence, false attribution of sources, and the oversimplification of complex topics [1]. The potential harm to food safety manifests in various ways:

  • Misleading Information: Unsubstantiated health and viral can lead to risky behaviours and delayed healthcare access
  • Erosion of Trust: The overload of contradictory information can undermine trust in credible sources
  • Unsafe Practices: Influencer endorsements and the allure of trendy ingredients can lead consumers to overlook food safety risks and quality standards [5,6]
Customer trends and new food sources
To read more about novel foods and how they can pose a risk to food safety, check this article.  

Tips for Consumers  

To help consumers make informed and safe choices, here's a list of tips for navigating food safety on social media:  

  • Think Critically: Verify information from trusted sources before adopting new food or recommendations
  • Evaluate Endorsements: Research brands and influencers before trusting their advice
  • Prioritize Safety: Follow established food safety guidelines when preparing from social media [5]

Implications and Guidelines for Food Safety Stakeholders  

A 2023 EFSA study reveals a stark disconnection: 70% of Europeans are interested in food safety, yet 60% find the information too technical [2]. This highlights the need for food safety experts to strategically use social media to bridge this gap. By tailoring their communication to address consumer needs and concerns, experts can foster trust and promote accurate information. Key strategies for effective communication include:

  • Strategic Platform Selection: Choose platforms based on audience demographics, content format, and available resources
  • Compelling Storytelling: Share personal experiences, anecdotes, and expert insights to engage audiences and build trust
  • Proactive Misinformation : Actively share reliable information to counter false narratives and address misconceptions
  • Social Media Training: Equip experts with the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively on social media platforms [1]

Leading by Example – the Safe4Eat Initiative  

In May 2024, the European (EFSA) launched #Safe4Eat, a social media campaign aimed at educating young Europeans (25-45) about food safety and the role of scientists in protecting consumers. The campaign seeks to bridge the gap between scientific expertise and public understanding, empowering individuals to make informed food choices [2].

Is Your Food Company #DigitalReady?

QAssurance is your in navigating the complex landscape of digital food safety. We offer a unique blend of expertise and real-time software solutions, like iMIS Food, designed to fortify your food safety infrastructure throughout the entire supply chain. But that's not it!

We have also developed a “Digital Transformation Calculator” to assess your company's digital readiness, pinpointing areas for improvement and providing tailored recommendations. These tools are invaluable for understanding how prepared your business is for the future of digital food safety. By receiving results directly in your email address, you ensure you remain compliant and competitive in an ever-evolving landscape.

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