ABSTRACT

Although severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is not a proven foodborne pathogen, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the food system on alert, and food safety has been identified as an important pillar in mitigating the crisis. Therefore, an understanding of how popular media are used as a vital disseminator of food safety and health information for the public is more important than ever. YouTube deserves particular attention as one of the most highly trafficked Web sites on the Internet, especially because YouTube has been blamed during the pandemic for spreading misleading or untrustworthy information that contradicts validated information. This study was conducted to evaluate the food safety information and practices circulating on YouTube during the COVID-19 pandemic and the alignment of these practices with recommendations from government agencies. A search for videos on YouTube was conducted using the key words “food and COVID-19,” “food safety and COVID-19,” and “groceries and COVID-19.” After applying a series of inclusive and exclusive criteria, 85 videos from the United States and Canada were evaluated. More than half (69%) of the videos presented hand washing procedures, 26% showed kitchen disinfection, and most (86%) showed take-out food or grocery store practices. Multiple produce washing procedures were also shown throughout videos. Food was not considered hazardous in 39% of the videos, but 24% mentioned that food packaging is potentially hazardous. Most videos cited government agencies and had a host or guest who was a health care professional, professor, or expert. Three videos were not aligned with a government agency's guideline or information cited; two were presented by a health care professional. These findings reveal the need to develop educational interventions that increase YouTube video host and guest awareness of social media use as a tool for food safety dissemination and the need to provide trustworthy information.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • YouTube is a key platform for disseminating food safety and COVID-19 information.

  • Misinformation about food safety during COVID-19 has been spread on YouTube.

  • Many of the video hosts and guests were health care professionals or scientific experts.

  • A food safety knowledge gap exists in the health care field.

  • Experts can use YouTube to spread important information during future health events.

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