9

There's been a number of questions of the "is this safe to eat?" variety.

I admit, I replied to the one on cheese, but I'm starting to think that these may have liability issues -- if someone says it's safe, and someone gets seriously sick, do they have legal recourse?

I know there's a concept (can't recall the term), where both parties are at fault (eg, someone crashes into you car, and you weren't wearing you seatbelt, then you could've possibly have prevented or reduced the bodily injuries, which makes it more difficult to be awarded full reimbursement of medical expenses in a lawsuit)

Obviously, the problem comes in that the answer determines if it's a liability -- if everyone tells them not to do it, it's not a liability.

Do we need something in the FAQ to warn about food-safety, would it be easier to just automatically consider them off-topic, or is there some other (hopefully better) solution?

  • I would assume the SO team has a lawyer they can talk to in order to iron this out, but good point. I was wondering this as well. – Adam Shiemke Jul 20 '10 at 15:50
  • I hadn't thought about this, but I'm glad someone brought it up. – Ben McCormack Jul 31 '10 at 2:54
11

The thing is, there are are a lot of different kinds of food safety questions.

For example the one we both answered about scalding - you could argue that it's a food safety question because it was originally done for food safety (and sometimes still is).

Questions like:

  • Can I eat the apple used to stuff a turkey (after cooking)?
  • What is the minimum internal temperature I need to cook a turkey to?
  • Can I reuse marinade that was used on raw meat?
  • How do I clean a cutting board that was used for raw meat?
  • How do I store [X] to maximize its lifetime and how long will it last?
  • Is it safe to eat this food that's been sitting in my fridge for 3 years and has turned green and blue?

All of these are completely different questions. The last of the above examples is pretty silly but, not surprisingly, has actually been asked (obviously not using those exact words). The second-last is probably going to be the most common type of "food safety" question and is very easy to cross-reference. The one before that is almost a "technique" question, and the one before that really should be common sense (although apparently it isn't). The first two examples are basic, but I think it would be hard to explain to people why we've decided that they're off-topic.

I can even imagine certain instances where the person asking the question doesn't even know that there's a safety issue and thinks it's just about taste.

No, I don't think we can just label them off-topic. They're certainly not my favourite questions, but if we disallow these and allow other tangential topics like equipment purchasing or wine pairing, the scope starts to look like swiss cheese, with everybody dancing around the holes trying to land on the magical "on topic" area. I think that we either have to be restrictive or permissive; we can't reasonably cherry-pick areas just because they might constitute a legal liability.

A disclaimer in the FAQ should be sufficient, something like:

Posts on [Site Name] are community-edited and may not be verified against authoritative sources. [Company Name] is not responsible for any false claims made about food safety or any other subject. Readers are strongly recommended to independently verify any unsourced claims before acting upon them.

I also don't know exactly how the business model works, but if it were me, I would probably set up a different limited-liability corporation for each site. Regardless, I don't think it should fall to us to try to hunt down and eliminate every safety claim; even if we declared it off-topic, there's still a good chance that something will slip through the cracks, and then we'll need the legal mumbo-jumbo anyway.

I'm sure the team has a lawyer or two they can consult; surely they've had to deal with these issues already on Stack Overflow (let's not forget that software is also used in hospitals, avionics, and other life-or-death situations). Let's stick to the disclaimer and be done with it.

  • Good commentary on why food safety questions should stay. They are also "not my favourite questions", and there are more of them than I'd like to see. – mjobrien Aug 29 '11 at 1:59
5

I would say that any advice site could get sued for any advice. Heck, your code on SO might melt my server.

If getting sued for giving bad advice were sufficient risk to not post advice on the internet, well, let's just say that things would look a lot different.

I agree that an FAQ that says "Don't mistrust your own common sense, and don't be stupid when following advice on an anonymous cooking website" would be sufficient for me. Of course SE's lawyers may have their own desires.

  • Well said Peter. – hobodave Jul 23 '10 at 20:02
3

Would it be possible to have some sort of notice be automatically attached (in the area of the question's description) once it's labeled as a food-safety question?

That way, anyone looking at the question or the responses could see the disclaimer (using a disclaimer like the one Aaronaught gave above)?

  • This is subject to the same issue that's in my penultimate paragraph; just because the question is about food safety doesn't mean it'll get tagged [food-safety], and if the disclaimer is "selective" then you could argue from a legal standpoint that the lack of a disclaimer on that question constituted negligence. It's ridiculous of course, but you have to think like a lawyer here. ;) For this reason I still prefer the low-tech solution of featuring it prominently in the FAQ and possibly in a TOC somewhere (do we even have one of those?) – Aaronut Jul 22 '10 at 23:08
1

First, I'm not a lawyer.

StackExchange is in the US, and should be protected from liability by §230 of the Communications Decency Act. That protects SE, not the poster, though.

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