Lauren Hash Bell has an app to change that. The Gulfport High School and Harvard Law School graduate collects data from government and business websites and shares it through her app Whystle.
With so many cases of food poisoning and unsafe consumer products out there, Bell said she came up with a way to get through the clutter of information and give users customized notifications that will help keep their family healthy and safe.
“I think of it as sort of a curated news source,” she said of the app that provides the information in one place. The alerts come with action items people can do to follow-up once they learn about a hazard or recall, she said.
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How it works
“The app is free,” Bell said, and available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Once the app is downloaded, users fill out a profile so alerts can be tailored to their lives and the products they buy.
“For example, if you are pregnant, you will see certain recalls and safety alerts related to food-borne pathogens in your My Alerts,” the website explains. “If you have a milk allergy, you will see recalls and safety alerts related to products with undeclared milk in your My Alerts. And, if you have kids, you will receive recalls and safety alerts relating to furniture that tips over or toys that pose choking hazards.”
On good authority
Bell, 39, has spent her career working on both sides of food and product safety.
After graduating from Gulfport in 1997 and Harvard Law in 2004, she clerked for a federal judge for a year. She then went to work at the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she represented the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission and prosecuted companies for violating laws and endangering the public.
She transitioned to the law firm of Crowel & Moring to help large corporations navigate through the complicated consumer laws. Bell said these companies want to get the word out about recalls or safety issues and they get credit with federal agencies when they notify the public.
“They have an interest in protecting their consumers,” she said.
Why an app?
“We’re really targeting families,” said Bell, who lives in outside of Washington, D.C. in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and four children.
“This is something I can do from home,” she said of the app. She already had two little girls when she found out they were having twin boys, she said. “Four kids in five years,” she said, has her targeting families and focusing on acquiring new users who will benefit.
She left her job and partnered with app developer and co-founder Nick Jones of Richmond, Virginia.
“It was a lot to figure out,” she said.
What people say
Bell said she talked to people before the app launched in June and asked, “Would this be beneficial to you?”
The app has received positive reviews:
“If you care about the health and welfare of your family, you need Whystle,” one user wrote. “I was shocked at how many safety alerts and recalls there are for everyday products. Only the major ones make the news — a couple a year — but there are hundreds. The Whystle app organizes alerts into categories like Pets and Food so it’s easy to use.”
Other reviews said, “Part of being a mom is making sure everyone is leading a healthy lifestyle and this will absolutely help,” and “Have a 2 year old and this is a great app to keep our minds at ease with all the baby stuff recalls that are out there but seem to never get to us. Whystle saves lives.”
Bell has added a blog to provide health information on topics like new contraceptives approved by the FDA and common food additives that may harm children.
She’s also working to expand the app. Whystle currently doesn’t cover recalls from certain government agencies, such as the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference and the U.S. Coast Guard, but Bell plans to include those and other sources in the future.