COVID-19 Food Safety on Social Media
By Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension; Londa Nwadike, Kansas State University/University of Missouri; Levy Randolph, Department of Communications and Agricultural Education, Kansas State University College of Agriculture
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Extension Food Safety units at Kansas State University (KSU) and the University of Missouri (MU Extension) used a variety of community outreach channels to distribute food safety information. Our primary channels included news stories, radio spots, public workshops and events, print brochures, and social media.
Social media, such as Facebook, was used to a lesser extent with content focusing on basics such as canning green beans in July, how to have a safe summer picnic, and preparing game meats in the fall.
That all changed in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. The states of Kansas and Missouri declared states of emergency. Panic-buying emptied grocery store shelves creating temporary shortages of many food staples.
Concerned about food safety during the pandemic, many families relied on social media for information. We saw social media quickly emerge as the public’s main source of information and, unfortunately, misinformation. Some erroneous social media posts suggested that washing produce in bleach was necessary to kill the virus, for example.
As its primary public outreach during the pandemic, KSU and MU Extension increased their distribution of accurate, evidenced-based information on social media channels, primarily Facebook. Most of the posts included information from and/or linked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as KSU and MU Extension.
Through state and local cooperative extension groups and community groups sharing KSU and MU Extension posts, our reach exponentially expanded. One post on proper disinfection reached more than 9,600 users across various Facebook pages!
To gauge the effectiveness of our social media efforts, we surveyed 120 of our users to learn if they:
- Gained any new knowledge from the posts
- Used the food safety practices suggested in our six highest performing posts
We learned that social media was an effective way to convey information that would improve consumer food safety practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the number of people reached for each post did not appear to correlate with the percentage of respondents saying they would use that safe food handling practice.
Here are the survey results of respondents who said they would definitely or probably use the food safety behaviors suggested in social media posts:
- Handwashing (100%)
- Washing produce only with water (92%)
- Essential grocery shopping tips (80%)
- Using general food safety practices (65%)
- Washing hands before eating takeout food (43%)
- Disinfecting surfaces (41%)
Based on the survey data and experiences with social media postings, we gained valuable tips on how to increase reach and improve families’ safe food handling and hand hygiene behaviors.
In addition to providing information on reach and other metrics from two university extension services, we gained data on effective ways to improve the delivery of consumer food safety information.
Friday, March 12
1:20 p.m. to 1:40 p.m.
During the conference, we will present the results of our IRB-approved survey conducted with Kansas State University and University of Missouri Extension social media users. Participants will 1) gain ideas for potential social media posts and images 2) learn how they can conduct a simple survey of their social media users to determine their knowledge gain and food safety behavior changes. In addition to reach and other metrics from two university extension services, we will include information on effective ways to improve the delivery of consumer food safety information.
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
The 2021 Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference, March 9-12, 2021, sponsored by the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education, is the only conference in the U.S. dedicated to consumer food safety education. For more conference information and to register, please visit fightbac.org/virtual.