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Using Emerging Media at USDA to Improve Food Safety

Using social media and other new digital technologies to reach the public with critical food safety messages is a key mandate of the year-old President’s Food Safety Working Group. As demonstrated at a panel at USDA’s Food Safety Education Conference in Atlanta, the government is responding vigorously to the charge.
Representatives of the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA spoke about how emerging digital and social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs are being used to educate the public about food safety.

“Using social media helps us reach many more people than we can using only conventional channels,” USDA Director of New Media Amanda Eamich told attendees at a panel titled “Using Social Media.” “Social media lets us multiply our reach.”

The panelists described social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a public “conversation” among users. The government can better serve the public by listening to and participating in that conversation, Eamich said. USDA uses the Twitter profile @usdafoodsafety to send recall and food safety messages to more than 25,000 followers.

In a recent campaign, USDA sent out Tweets during the run-up to the Super Bowl about preparing buffet and party food safely. By using a tag followed by Twitterers discussing the Super Bowl, “We were able to remind people to cook their burgers to 160 degrees,  as part of their existing conversations about the game,” she said.

Part of the mandate of the Food Safety Working Group was to update www.foodsafety.gov into a “one-stop shop” for consumer information on food safety. The three agencies have collaborated to create a vibrant consumer-friendly site that employs Twitter and a blog.

The panel listed a wide variety of digital technologies now being used to distribute food safety messages to diverse audiences:

  • “e-cards”—colorful e-mail greetings that include a variety of public health messages
  • Facebook pages
  • YouTube videos
  • podcasts
  • Web pages optimized for mobile phones
  • Text messaging services and e-mail alerts
  • Widgets that allow people to get live product recall information sent directly to their desktops or to their own web pages
  • Click here for links to all USDA new media. You can follow @USDAgov on Twitter for all Department information. USDA’s food safety Twitter feed is @usdafoodsafety.

    By Craig Stoltz, Web Director, Food Safety and Inspection Service

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