The Spotlight of Social Media: How Does the Food Chain Really Work?

You cannot scan your news feed or check your Twitter or Face Book account these days without seeing some post about food safety.  Whether it be bacteria tainted infant formula in China, unsafe handing of bean sprouts in Germany or the infamous Mad Cow disease scandal, the proliferation of stories of unsafe foods in our local food chain has now become a frequent and unwelcome buzzing in the background.

Stories of such outbreaks spread instantaneously across social media, leading this humble blogger to wonder about the role of information technology in changing both producer and consumer behavior.  The “pink slime” beef incident in the US recently lit a fire under the issue of the media in public safety.  Meatingplace, the meat processing industry’s trade magazine, fired back and wrote an article about the incident and role social media and non-food experts played in creating consumer fear.   Last year, a shopper at Safeway in Arizona made a splashy social media play to a local news station when she found a chicken foot shrink wrapped in a package of chicken breasts.  These kind of local stories have the viral capacity to lead consumers to wonder, just who is minding my food?

How well does the average consumer really understand how the food we consume is produced, processed and brought to market?  The complexity of sourcing, tracking, reporting, packaging, marketing, and distributing through a variety of end user channels is vastly different for fresh perishables like summer tomatoes and lettuce, proteins like beef and fish, and packaged goods like breakfast cereal and frozen dinners.  Add Nutrition Labeling and Allergen policies mandating the food system make ingredients and nutritional data more transparent to consumers and we are all swimming in one complicated food chain stew.

As consumers read more news stories, scan new product packaging and begin to worry about the safety of food on their dinner tables, will the inevitable proliferation of social media news change our dialog about food?  Will the average consumer connect the dots between a local product recall and the source of that product?

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?

 

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