Recall announcements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are important communication tools. Nonetheless, previous studies revealed that the effects of recalls on consumer demand are small. Social media analytics can provide insights into public awareness of food safety–related incidents. This study included social listening data to analyze how the public, in social and online media spaces, responds to, interacts with, and references food safety recalls and/or initial announcements of foodborne illness outbreaks as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Analysis results suggest that mentions quantified in the social and online media searches moved closer in step with the CDC's initial reports of foodborne illness outbreaks than did FDA and FSIS recall announcements. Issuance of recalls may not be a popular source of food risk information in the social media space compared with reactions to the CDC's initial illness reports. This relative popularity reflects people more often sharing or posting about illness risk regardless of whether a recall occurs, suggesting that recall announcements by the FDA and FSIS may not induce changes in consumers' behavior, whereas initial illness reports by the CDC may. Although recalls by the FDA and FSIS may not generate social media posts, their primary role is to take potentially unsafe food items off grocery shelves. Online media analytics provide policy makers with information to guide effective food risk communication; initial CDC reports drive immediate attention more than do FDA and FSIS recalls.

  • Social listening analysis was used to analyze reactions to food safety information.

  • Media mentions moved closely with the CDC's initial reports of foodborne illness outbreaks.

  • Recalls by the FDA and FSIS were not as impactful as were CDC reports.

  • Policy makers could use the CDC's initial reports for effective risk communication.

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