Recently, the New York City Health Department teamed up with Yelp and Columbia University researchers to pore over some 300,000 reviews of the city’s restaurants.
From that initial pool, the group pulled 468 reviews that were consistent with signs of food-borne illness. Interestingly, a mere 3 percent of those disease outbreaks were reported to the city’s Health Department.
After talking to 27 of those reviewers, the researchers were able to identify three restaurants that accounted for 16 different illnesses. Two of those businesses were found to be operating under numerous health code violations.
The effort needed to funnel those initial 300,000 reviews down to two sources of food poisoning may seem excessive, but officials maintain that the method is something health departments in other regions should consider.
“By incorporating website review data into public health surveillance programs, health departments might find additional illnesses and improve detection of food-borne disease outbreaks in the community,” reads a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And Yelp might not be the only social network helping to stop the spread of food-borne illness. Last month, Twitter announced that two recipients of its coveted Data Grants, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, will use data from the social network to study and track food poisoning.
These efforts are part of a greater push for food safety awareness that seems to be producing tangible results. Around the same time the Twitter and Yelp initiatives were announced, the CDC reported there has been a decline in the rate of salmonella infection in recent years.