Research – Initial reports of foodborne illness drive more public attention than food recall announcements

Journal of Food Protection

Recall announcements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Safety Inspection and Service (FSIS) are important communication tools. Nonetheless, previous studies found that effects of recalls on consumer demand are small. Social media analytics can provide insights into public awareness about food safety related incidents. Using the social listening data this study analyzes how the public, in social and online media space, responds to, interacts with, and references food safety recalls and/or initial announcements of foodborne illness outbreaks as reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Analysis suggests that mentions quantified in the social and online media searches conducted moved closer in-step with the CDC’s initial reports of foodborne illness outbreaks than FDA and FSIS recall announcements. Issuance of recalls may not necessarily be a popular source of food risk information in social media space when compared with reactions to the CDC’s initial illness reports. This relative popularity reflects people more often sharing/posting about illness risk regardless of whether a recall occurs. This suggests that recall announcements by FDA and FSIS may not induce wanted changes in consumers’ behavior, while initial illness reports by CDC may. Although recalls by FDA and FSIS may not generate social media posts, their primary role is to take potentially unsafe food items off grocery shelves. Online media analytics provides policy makers with implications for effective food risk communication planning; initial CDC reports drive immediate attention more than FDA and FSIS recalls.

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