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Crowd-Sourcing Food Safety Shuts Down Restaurant

Posted in Food Safety on July 6, 2019

Just a few days ago I was having a conversation with someone from my generation on the topic of how the Internet has changed life; both for the better and the worse. The conversation turned to police work and how being connected has made it easier to catch a criminal. In the days before the Internet, communication was much harder and very limited. Now, we live in an age that when something happens, it is immediately known by the masses.

When it comes to food safety, I have seen a trend following this line of thinking as well. And while this kind of information spreading can be a good thing, I believe we also need to use caution. Today I want to talk about crowd-sourcing as it pertains to Food Safety, how this can be a benefit if used correctly, and look at a case study to get a better understanding of how this tool can help.

What is Crowd-sourcing?

Just as the name implies, crowd-sourcing is using the “crowd” or in this case everyone on the Internet who happens to pay attention to a certain site, to gain awareness of an issue that might not get a lot of attention otherwise; then act on that issue. When it comes to safety and news, this is a revolutionary way for people to share information. Can you think of a way this could be abused though? One that comes to mind is someone being upset at an establishment and spreading false accusations and other people seeing it. Another could just be someone trying to be mean and making up things to tarnish a name. Whatever the case, relying on one site for full information can be misleading.

A few years ago, the concept of crowd-sourcing was not even around. Now, everything from a new food item at a restaurant to investing in a new technology relies on crowd-sourcing. Serving multiple purposes, crowd-sourcing can inform, call to invest, and allow others spread out across the globe to feel like they are a part of something. Community is what it’s all about.

Most Recent Case

A restaurant in Fullerton County, CA has had some ongoing problems with food safety over the past few months. After the initial investigation, business was suspended after many of the workers were found to be too ill to be handling food. A day later, the restaurant was allowed to re-open and resume serving customers. Five days later, with the help of an online website that watches out for consumers eating out, the same restaurant was made to close their doors again – this time with a more stringent plan in place.

In order for the restaurant to consider re-opening, the workers responsible for possibly contaminating food will have to attend a hearing and the entire workforce will have to attend a Food Worker Education Class. Along with classes, the entire restaurant will have to undergo a cleaning overhaul: cleaning and disinfecting for pathogens, certain foods will need to be discarded, and hygiene procedures will need to be reviewed.

While I agree with this, it is my opinion that this should be the policy after the first offense. Added to my two cents would be: periodic in-house classes and hygiene procedure review for every restaurant, not just the ones that have issues. We as clients need to be the ones pushing for stronger policies when it comes to food safety.

In the case of Pita Hot in California, the desired result from crowd-sourcing was achieved. What would have happened if multiple people, some who have never eaten there before, did not know about the safety issues? Left unchecked, this type of food safety issue could have turned into an outbreak quickly.

The Website

While I do not agree with everything this website does, this is where the information for the eventual closure of a restaurant came from:

Let me start by explaining my position more. A website that can tell you if a place made someone sick is a wonderful idea. I would encourage you to check into the site the next time you are traveling or going on a vacation. There could be an issue with a place you plan to stop at and eat and without a site like this you may never know.

As always, take the time to do your research. This site can be a useful tool in the battle to keep ourselves safe from foodborne bacteria but use your knowledge of food safety as the backbone for your research. Never take the word of one person on the Internet. It may take a while but always read as much as you can before making a decision.

The Takeaway

When I first read about this restaurant and the influence crowd-sourcing had, I was both shocked and excited about the possibilities. Most of us have had experiences with food poisoning or other food related issues. Before, it was word of mouth: you told your neighbors, they told others, and so on. Now we have the power of the World Wide Web so we can reach millions in an instant.

Take every precaution when it comes to eating out. This and sites like it can be used in making right decisions. But remember: use all the information you can get before making a decision.

Today, we need to be careful what we eat and feed our families. By using technology, we can share and help others be careful too. Just use discernment when doing so.

By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)