CDC uses Yelp to Follow Food Poison Cases

While investigating an already reported outbreak of food borne illness the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene decided to review Yelp, a popular restaurant review website, for more persons suffering from food poisoning. Yelp agreed to help in the investigation and joined programers from Columbia University to develop software that would analyze Yelp reviews. The software would search for three¬†criteria: keywords such as “vomit” and “diarrhea,” multiple persons affected, and an incubation period of a minimum ten hours. The investigation appears successful as it has brought to light three restaurant-related outbreaks that caused 16 individual cases of food borne illnesses!

Due to the exponential growth of social media use. It appears the internet could be the best place for the CDC to track outbreaks from food and other sources. The state of Utah and the city of Chicago have both developed their own websites for quick reporting of food borne illness. New York City offers reporting through 311, the non-emergency government response phone line. However it seems most people are unaware of how many functions are available through 311. Of everyone contacted through this Yelp investigation only 3% said they knew one could report food poisoning through 311. Maybe in the future the CDC will follow Twitter to track general disease outbreaks like the flu.

Although Hog and Rooster is completely behind the New York DOH with this investigation, it is necessary to point out some oversights. First, let it be mentioned that no investigation can ever be 100% perfect. The NYC DOH aimed to collect, sort, and analyze raw data in order to identify the major health risks, and they did so successfully. Certain food borne illnesses such as scromboid poisoning affects people in under the ten hour incubation period that this investigation followed. Also whenever reviewing eyewitness testimony (ie. a Yelp review) time is of the upmost importance because important details are lost as time passes and people forget. Although this is an excellent supplement to the processes in place, it would be more effective to inform the public about ways to report food poisoning such as 311 in New York City in order to obtain information quickly and effectively.

To read the full CDC article click below:

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