Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Social Networking as a Strategy for Improving Food Safety: A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Social Networking as a Strategy for Improving Food Safety: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The FDA [Food and Drug Administration], America's consumer watchdog for food safety, needs a more effective means of communicating with all participants from food sources to consumers. This paper presents a pilot study using responses from an online survey to explore the feasibility of using social media to enhance the current food safety system in the U.S. While more research is needed, the results suggest that, although the primary users of social media are young and well-educated adults, social media networking can play an important role in the rapid dissemination of food recall notices and other preventive information in a message form that is more likely to be read or heard. Thus, the FDA should consider social media as an important tool in increasing the effectiveness of its overall strategy.

Key Words: social network; social media; food safety; food recall

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this pilot study was to determine whether food regulatory agencies such as the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) should adopt a strategy of using social networks to enhance the current food safety system. Research into organizational use of social networks is emerging (Carpenter, Li, & Jiang, 2012; Gulati, Nohria, & Zaheer, 2000; Rangan, 2000), but its strategic use by public organizations has not yet been studied (Mahon, Heugens, & Lamertz, 2004).

BACKGROUND

Food Safety and Public Policy

"The FDA is supposed to be a watchdog for consumers, and for too long, this agency has been coming up short," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union (Consumers Union, 2013). Corporations supplying processed foods in the United States are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. Many do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening for microbes and other potential dangers (Moss, 2009).

Currently, the strategic focus of public policy regarding food safety is "control" (e. g., preventive control standards and science-based measures). That control is accomplished in a variety of ways, including product recalls. Food recalls occur for many reasons, including biological or physical contamination or other quality issues. Recalls may be initiated by the manufacturer, distributor, the FDA, or the Department of Agriculture. For the recall process to function effectively, it is important to have rapid dissemination of information and traceability so any affected product can be identified and withdrawn from the market as quickly as possible. But the Food Safety Modernization Act is changing that as it has shifted the direction of food safety management from reaction to prevention.

The U. S. President's Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) has advocated a new direction for the U.S. food safety system--a public health-focused approach. The FSWG is committed to modernizing food safety through partnerships with consumers, industry and regulatory agencies (Food Safety Working Group, 2009). The FSWG suggests a route toward a freedom-from-fear food safety environment through its charge: "To have safe food that does not cause us harm and to enhance our food safety systems" (Food Safety Working Group, 2009). Based on three principles set by the FSWG--prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery--FDA and FSIS are taking 1 action on two initiatives: the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the FSIS FIACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP).

Food Safety and Social Media

Although "... the systematic study of effective [food] recall communications is in its infancy" (Freberg, 2013; Hallman & Cuite, 2009), Freberg (2013) has shown that both attitudes and subjective norms influence consumers in their intention to comply with a food recall with attitudes having the greater impact. …

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