ABSTRACT

In light of extended stay-at-home periods during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, recent societal trends have revealed an increased use of online media to remain connected. Simultaneously, interests in at-home cooking and baking, particularly of “comfort foods” have increased. Because flour is a crucial component in many of these products, we analyze how the U.S. public, in social and online media spaces, references “flour” and its use. We also quantify the share of media mentions about flour that are devoted to flour-related food safety risks and/or risk mitigation. It was found that the volume of mentions about flour and its use fluctuate seasonally, often increasing ahead of the winter holiday season (November to December). Further, the volume of interest rapidly increased in March 2020 when stay-at-home orders were issued. The share of media devoted to flour-related food safety risks or associated illness was extremely small but generally corresponded with flour recall announcements or other public risk communications. Overall, the interest in flour and its use remains seasonal and predictably related to societal trends, such as increased baking at home during the holidays or 2020 stay-at-home orders. However, awareness of flour-related food safety risks seems largely absent on the basis of online media data collection and analysis, except in immediate reactions to flour recalls. This study suggests that more flour safety education programs may be desired to support consumers' informed decision making.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Volume of online media devoted to flour is seasonal, rising for the winter holiday season.

  • Volume of mentions of flour increased during the COVID-19 pandemic under the stay-at-home order.

  • Food safety does not make up a significant portion of online media reactions to flour.

  • Small number of mentions coincide with unawareness of flour-borne illness.

  • Online media sentiment about flour is negatively linked to flour-borne illnesses.

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