New York officials get the help they need from the popular website Yelp, to keep tabs on food poisoning outbreaks in the metropolitan area. The special thing about Yelp is how the site sets up its private data feed, making reviews such as the ones utilized by the Health Department, publicly available and in an easy to use format. The city’s Department of Health says it is using a special type of software that is able to analyze the almost 300,000 reviews of restaurants that currently are on Yelp. The program sifts through the large number of reviews on the website and looks for key words, such as “food poisoning and sick.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, about half of all food poisoning outbreaks are the direct result of eating out at restaurants. In the study conducted by the New York City Department of Health on food poisoning, they found that trawling social media websites, such as Yelp, was a definite help to get the aid they needed in order to verify that the poisonings were happening but not being reported.
The nine month long research program and Yelp provided special software, evaluated the 300,000 restaurant reviews, and identified 468 cases of recent illness due to food poisoning, 15 of which had only been reported. The researchers looked for cases that involved more than two people who had reported being ill at any single restaurant, and connected all 15 cases to three as yet unnamed establishments.
An investigation by New York officials into the sources of the food poisoning, given help by the website Yelp, found many violations in the food handling procedures by the nameless companies. Cross contamination in the refrigerator by means of having raw foods like meats mixed in with fresh food like salads, and using bare hands when having contact with foods in the kitchen area, were main sources of grievances. The investigators also figured out what foods had been tainted, but could not exactly say what germ had made so many people sick.
Health officials in New York traditionally hear food poisoning details from doctors or from people who call in to say they had gotten sick, not from social media sites like Yelp, which had an unambiguous hand in helping the trial run of the pilot project run in the home town of the Statue of Liberty. However, a lot of people who utilized Yelp did not know that they had the option of dialing 311 to report a suspected case of food poisoning. In fact, the 311 service reports that they receive only about 3,000 complaints of food poisoning a year, and that only about 1 percent is seen as being out-break related.
Yelp is seen as being a useful tool by the New York City officials, who used the social media site to get help in their quest to stop the spread of food poisoning. They stated that they will continue to use the site, and will also be conducting surveys every day as well. Other officials have trolled other popular social sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Google, in the hopes of being able to watch and foresee such ailments as flu outbreaks.
Be that as it may, Yelp had provided the New York Health Department officials with roundups of restaurant reviews every week since mid-June of 2012. The information included a time frame of 12 to 36 hours after someone had eaten a meal in a particular restaurant, and was mentioning being or getting sick, or knew someone who was sick. Also included in the data sent to the researchers were the emails of the roundup participants who had stated they had gotten, or were, ill. Of the 129 emails the officials sent out requesting more information, only 27 replied back.
Other places have implemented systems or websites in order to track food poisoning cases. The Department of Health in Chicago helped in the development of a system that communicates with those who complain in tweets on Twitter of possible food poisoning. And last year in Utah, that State launched their “I Got Sick” website, which makes the reporting of possible food poisoning easier and faster. It stands to reason that New York officials would take to Yelp and other social media sites to get the help and support they need in their efforts to quell food poisoning.
By Korrey Laderoute