Researchers Are Using Yelp Reviews to Track Food Poisoning

Researchers Are Using Yelp Reviews to Track Food Poisoning
Researchers Are Using Yelp Reviews to Track Food Poisoning

What made you sick (and write a scathing Yelp review) could help prevent future illness.

Researchers have come up with a new method of tracking food-borne illness and food poisoning: they’re taking a look at written complaints issued in Yelp reviews. Although it’s a less formal method than studies issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital have extracted data from over 5,800 businesses across the United States to determine where, why, and how food poisoning happens.

Their results? Yelp reviews are pretty much consistent with what the CDC already knows about food poisoning, namely that one-third of all food illness complaints are about poultry, and that beef, dairy, and beans were the other most troublesome food categories. The informal survey shows that 16 percent of Yelp users had trouble with seafood, which corresponds with 13 percent from the original CDC survey. More worrisome was the fact that 10 percent of the Yelp reports surveyed had some mention of food poisoning or becoming ill from food served in a restaurant.

"We can use these data for disease prevention and investigation. If someone is saying they had a bad meal at a restaurant, that could have a direct public health response because a public health person could identify the violation, and the food that made someone sick, and investigate,” said John Brownstein, researcher and co-founder of HealthMap, an epidemic tracking tool.

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi

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