Usually when someone pulls out their phone to snap a picture at a restaurant, it’s to document a particularly delicious or showstopping meal. Now, people are using photos to tell North Carolina State University assistant professor Benjamin Chapman about food safety issues. Chapman asked readers of his Barfblog to send photos to Instagram and Twitter showing what they perceive to be food safety problems at restaurants, grocery stores and other public facilities.
His said his goals are to raise awareness and generate public discussion about what people know about food safety, and then later to use the data in a research project. And if the spotlight puts some pressure on the food industry, Chapman said that’s fine too.
Since he began collecting photos back in September, Chapman has received about 150 submissions, many of which can be seen at the Citizen Food Safety website.
From apples falling on the ground and dirty lipstick marks on a glass, to hand washing signs, thermometer use and some pictures of what might qualify for the world’s dirtiest bathroom, Chapman said the submissions show people really do pay attention to food safety hazards.
“I’m really interested in using the information to characterize what the online population sees as food safety,” Chapman said. “One of my goals is to look back, in a year from now, to go there and find out if these are real [food safety] risk factors.”
People of all ages are responding to his request for photos and Chapman has no preconceived notions of what is considered a food safety problem. A photo of a bug infestation may provide a “yuk factor,” he said, but he would have to consider if it really is a risk factor.
“Are people on the right track? Don’t know if there is a right track,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the Internet.”
Chapman has computer software to track both social media networks so when people post a food safety photo to Instagram, he “likes” it and then follows the individual and encourages them to post more photos. He then adds the photo to the collection. It’s much the same with Twitter, but Chapman will re-tweet the photos.
He also talks with people who post to learn more about what they are trying to characterize with the photos they send.
How do you promote food safety in your restaurant? Tell us about it in the comments.