Product, food recall site uses geomapping

A former epidemiologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed a Web site for tracking product, food and drug recall advisories using geotagging so visitors can get a real-time display of information in a way that current government sites do not provide.

Now CEO of Toronto-based Health and Safety Watch Inc., Jeff Aramini said the idea for the site was borne out of his decade of experience in public health, where he observed a dizzying number of agencies at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, each responsible for a different aspect of health and safety.

“There were better ways of actually packaging and delivering this type of real-time information,” said Aramini. In 2010 so far in Canada, there have been more than 360 recalls and advisories for 700 products, 64 of which were food-related.More on There’s an iPhone app for your food allergies

The recently launched site,, is based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and allows users to select the geographical location where they live, narrowed down to the city, to learn about particular recall alerts. “If you only shop and eat and play and live in Toronto, then you probably don’t care about a deli meat recall from P.E.I,” said Aramini.

The geomapping also allows visitors to see information in real time as product recalls start and spread to other geographical areas. “As an event evolves, more people would have been notified,” said Aramini.

The site seeks to provide what government health and safety sites do not. Aramini said that while government is good at setting policy, among other things, “they’re not really innovative when it comes to leveraging technology.”

A 30-year-old mother living in London, Ont., and frequent visitor to the site finds that having data aggregated into a single location is especially helpful. “You could spend days trying to find all the possible things in your home that could be recalled or have something wrong with it,” said Patty Soer, whose four sons range from newborn to five years.More on Lac Carling 2010: Q&A with David Eaves

Prior to hearing about the site, Soer said she would resort to time-consuming searches on product Web sites. She found out that her children’s Graco high chair was being recalled from the site. “And I probably wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone to the site,” said Soer.

Aramini is very optimistic that his Web site will drive greater collaboration between industry, government and academia to help Canadians access real-time information that is pertinent to them.

The company just started a collaborative research study with the City of Toronto to find better ways of presenting food premises inspection data on mobile devices like the iPhone and BlackBerry as a location-based service.

Already, Aramini is encouraged by the strides government has made towards making data accessible to the public. The hurdle today is less about getting information than it is about leveraging that information into something useful, he said.

“I suspect we will see more open data models,” said Aramini.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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