When you have food allergies, who do you call? (Hint: It's not Ghostbusters!)

Survey research has long demonstrated that Canadians have put trust in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to protect their food supply. But social media is now giving the CFIA the ability to validate that trust almost daily.

 Stay Connected with the CFIA on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Stay Connected with the CFIA on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

While Canadians have always said they had confidence in the Agency, they didn't always know that the broader CFIA mandate included animal health or plant protection – the first links in the food chain.

"Social media is allowing us to do the kind of outreach -- connecting us with multiple consumers, producers, industry associations, and governments -- we could never have dreamed of in recent years," says Aaron Ellis, Manager of Social Media Communications, CFIA Communications and Public Affairs.

"We're constantly picking up new tips from our various social media platforms about potential food recalls, labelling concerns or other important animal and plant health issues," Mr. Ellis says, adding, “We're able to very quickly turn that information over to subject matter experts to investigate and take appropriate action. Through social media, we are staying connected with Canadians."

"We can tweet out a message, and the Twittersphere does much of the heavy lifting for us when a news organization, a blogger or an individual -- with many followers -- re-tweets our message," Mr. Ellis says.

For example, one Twitter user noticed that a package of kettle cooked potato chips with sea salt and malt vinegar was marked gluten free. Malt is made from converted grain. Another Twitter user commented that they had been seeing a lot of this type of incorrect labelling – malt marked as gluten free – and to contact the CFIA (@CFIA_Food). @CFIA_Food jumped in and provided the info and link needed so the labelling concern could be reported. The CFIA then issued a corrective action for the labelling, and both Twitter users tweeted how pleased they were that the process worked.

Beyond Twitter, the CFIA uses multiple platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. "Pinterest alone has 3.8 million users in Canada. This is a very good target audience for a lot of our messaging," notes Mr. Ellis.

Getting important facts to Canadians about food recalls or allergens has long been a mainstay of CFIA communications, and now social media is helping to turn a traditionally "one-way" information flow into a much more interactive form of public engagement.

Prior to the social media revolution, the CFIA was consistently growing its list of email subscribers to whom the Agency would send the latest food recall or allergy bulletins.

The CFIA still does this -- albeit through a more robust 24/7, 365 day per year automated posting system -- but now the Agency gets much more unsolicited information coming back.

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