Cucumbers, cilantro, tuna, ice cream. Sounds like the beginnings of a tasty meal to me. Unfortunately, these are just a few items with negative headlines in the news this year due to links or suspected links to foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “estimates that foodborne illness sickens about 48 million people in the U.S. each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.” The latest numbers in the report are from 2013, but even so, the number of outbreaks over the past 15 years has decreased. There is still much reporting that needs to take place, and involvement by local and government officials to test samples that can link potential cases together, but one thing is for sure, there are definitely more means of communicating about foodborne illnesses than we’ve had previously.
Patrick Quade, who suffered a number of bouts with foodborne illness decided to take initiative and created the website, iwaspoisoned.com in 2009. The website, which allows users to input data regarding restaurant, location, food consumed, and symptoms, has had 30,000 consumer comments submitted since its inception. The entire list of past complaints is not viewable, however, in order to prevent consumers from obtaining too much data through a “witch hunt” and interpreting it in such a way that would damage a business where other factors may need to be considered.
A fellow BU Alumni, Raed Mansour, is part of the team that initiated foodbornechicago.org with organizations like Smart Chicago Collaborative and City of Chicago Department of Public Health as active participants to help alert residents to potential food borne illness concerns. Consumers can visit the website or utilize the Twitter handle @foodbornechi and hashtag #foodpoisoning to report suspected cases of foodborne illness. Through use of technology, like Open311 and coding, tweets can be searched for information related to potential foodborne illness in Chicago in order to establish a pattern. The program has even been recognized as a Harvard Ash Center’s 2015 Top 25 Innovations in Government.
Although some communication is geared toward the tracking of potential outbreaks or sources of outbreaks, other communication in the form of websites is geared toward food safety. Fightbac.org is a website geared toward supporting consumers to prevent food poisoning. Foodsafety.gov is the “gateway to federal food safety information.” USDA.gov is the official United States Department of Agriculture website. Foodsafetynews.com is the resource that led me to articles about the food items I mentioned that have been under investigations; it also features articles that pointed me to Quade’s story. Many of these resources make use of email subscriptions or RSS feeds to deliver important information to consumers about potential problems.
There probably won’t ever be a time where foodborne illness will be completely eradicated. However, with innovations in technology, there are far greater opportunities to stay apprised to potential foodborne illnesses and outbreaks.