Yelp Helps Find Places to Eat and Avoid

“Oh, my friend said the last time she ate there she got sick.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, well, I’d have a few more dollars.

food poisoning

Hearsay is one way (if not the only way) I learn about potential food poisoning breakouts. It leaves me wondering if there’s a better way to get that information.

According to new research, there just might be.

It was found that restaurant review sites like Yelp can help health inspectors track down outbreaks of food poisoning that have not been reported. This means the problem can be solved faster, and you’ll likely know about it sooner.

Though this has only been tested in New York City, it makes sense that it would work in other cities as well.

Reviews posted on Yelp about specific restaurants helped health inspectors identify foodborne outbreaks at three restaurants, Dr. Sharon Balter, senior investigator and medical epidemiologist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told HealthDay.

“We know we don’t identify all of the outbreaks that are out there, and this is just another tool to do that,” she said.

To conduct their research, those on the study looked through Yelp with software designed to find reviews that mentioned foodborne illness. The program looked for keywords indicating illness, multiple cases of people reporting illness at one restaurant, and reports indicating enough time had passed for the illness to be caused by food and not something else.

Dr. Balter noted while they did find cases where reviews pointed to unreported foodborne illness problems, it’s not common for most food-poisoning complaints to lead to genuine issues at the restaurant.

“In any surveillance system like this, there will be a lot of noise,” she said. “The exciting thing for us is we could sort through that noise and find actual cases.”

For now, New York City health inspectors plan to continue using the software to look for potential outbreaks. They also hope to refine their search methods and expand the project to include other locations.

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