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The Citizen Food Safety Project

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Tailgate food safety: bratwurst with a Comark PDT300 digital tip-sensitive thermometer. Photo: Benjamin Chapman, 2013.

Tailgate food safety: bratwurst with a Comark PDT300 digital tip-sensitive thermometer. Photo: Benjamin Chapman, 2013.

A walk through the farmers market, grocery store or restaurant will provide a glance into a not-so-new but increasingly prevalent subculture: cataloging food porn through smartphone cameras. Even the guys at the table beside me at a food court in O’Hare airport are taking pictures of their lunch and texting/tweeting/instagramming. Someone on a phone elsewhere is probably viewing the output and commenting.

The Interwebs continue to demonstrate that pictures and visuals matter. The clearest of messages in text can’t always describe what’s really happening. And when it comes to food safety, there’s a lot happening out there. Food safety voyeurism isn’t new, but the technology has changed. It’s been done with restaurant restrooms, grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Almost a decade ago a group of keen public health folks in South Korea created the Sikparazzi movement. The program encouraged citizens eating at restaurants to take pictures of food sanitation infractions (cockroaches or cross-contamination) and send the visuals to health inspectors who would follow-up, and in some cases, assess a fine in response. In 2008 a second group of clever health folks in the UK followed suit and there have been multiple examples of pests-gone-wild in New York and Toronto being caught on smartphones – and shared through the Internet.

To participate, engage and utilize the world of food picture snapping we’ve started a project, citizen food safety, aimed at sharing visuals of food safety in the broadest of terms. Whether it’s rats, handwashing, pesticides, the mythical 5-second-rule or a dude eating Ramen noodles out of a bowl he made with his beard hair, we’re looking to curate a repository of what food safety means to the online world. This isn’t just for the food safety nerds; it’s for the Internet’s population of eaters: the regular folks who shop, cook and eat.

Good practices (like proper glove use, information on menus, food safety marketed to consumers, thermometer use) and bad ones (like cross-contamination, nose picking, temperature abuse, babies being changed on restaurant tables) are all in play.

To get in on the fun tweet or instagram a picture tagged with #citizenfoodsafety. All pics will be added to a tumblr site. Follow me @benjaminchapman on twitter or barfblogben on instagram to see the outputs.

Ben Chapman About the Author: Dr. Ben Chapman is an assistant professor and food safety specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University. With an aim of having less people sick with foodborne illness, his group designs, implements and evaluates food safety strategies, messages and media. Ben dabbles in blogging at the aptly-named barfblog, co-host a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. lisagene 8:05 pm 10/3/2013

    More responsible food service is good. This citizens initiative is great, because most people will not report a restaurant when they become sick. They need to be aware that they are just as responsible for food safety as the food worker and their manager. The Jensen case in another great thing. They were arrested because “they should have known. More info on this at https://texas-food-handler.com

    Link to this

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