Social Media Roots Out “Killer Cucumbers”

So how many people stopped eating cucumbers when the German Authorities announced that they were the source of the recent and ongoing E.coli outbreak in Germany and elsewhere in Europe?  However, as we all know by now and as the Spanish Government are at pains to point out, it had nothing to do with Spanish “killer cucumbers” but orginated in sprouts from a North German farm and now the import of certain sprout seeds has been banned.  no wonder that Spain is looking for compensation, as losses were running at €20 million a week, with 150,000 tons of Spanish fruit & vegetables piling up every week at the height of the scare.

Prof. Alan Reilly of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) speaking at a conference in Dublin on Applied Microbiology said that with headlines like “Killer Cucumbers” a story can spread like wildfire on social media networks and become more exaggerated with each telling, due to the lack of editorial content.  It has therefore become very difficult for Europe’s national food bodies to keep pace with such developments. Citing the case of the Germans blaming Spanish cucumbers, he said “if you get it wrong, you are really in trouble”.  The problem is that once a story “gets legs” and develops at a blistering pace on social media networks, it may not be possible to reverse the damage done to food products as quickly as their reputation was damaged in the first place. Reilly’s advice therefore is to proceed with caution when releasing information and verification of facts is important.

However it’s not all bad news, as many scientists shared information through social media networks during the incident. It was the first time that such networks contributed to the identification of the genetic make up of this organism. “Finding the DNA sequence of the organism would have taken 2 – 3 years in the past, but this time it took 2 days said Reilly.

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