Social media a tool in food safety message

Answering consumer questions on social media about produce safety can pay immediate and long-term dividends.

While retailers, distributors and wholesalers are always in communications with suppliers on food safety concerns, Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla., said that suppliers also need to talk with consumers.

“I have found that it is particularly important, via social media, e-mail, etc., to go to the consumer and make sure they understand what is available and what they should be concerned about,” Ostlund said.

She said consumers sometimes need reassurance that a particular produce item is not part of a recall.

“Giving them reassurances in that way also helps,” she said.

At the same time, most consumers rely on their retail stores to provide them with safe food.

“They trust their grocery stores to a large extent that they are not going to put out anything that is part of a recall,” she said.

The level of confidence that consumers have in their grocery stores is high, she said.

Brooks Tropicals marketed imported papayas this summer that were not part of a recall of the fruit from Mexico.

“I often get folks that just want to make sure, that just want the extra little assurance, and that second reassurance is important.”

Consumers ask questions via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

Ostlund said that once you provide consumers with answers, there is a good chance they will share the answers with friends and others on social media.

Looking ahead, Ostlund thinks consumers want to have a more personal connection to what they eat and they will use social media to find answers.

“They want to know who is growing it, where is it from, if it’s GMO, if it’s organic — and so especially with fruit and produce, they are interested in those areas, and we shouldn’t be surprised.”