Yelp reviews lead to food-born illness identification, solutions

Nate Swanner - May 23, 2014
Yelp reviews lead to food-born illness identification, solutions

Have you ever left a bad review on Yelp, thinking nobody would care? Maybe you had a terrible server, or the food made you sick. It turns out some are listening, and if enough people complain, the proper authorities might step in. That’s what happened in New York, as investigators are turning to Yelp to protect the public interest.

After pining through the review portal for catchwords like “sick” or “diarrhea”, New York City health officials identified three restaurants which made people sick. Not only could they pinpoint the three establishments (which they’re not naming), they went on to identify what patrons ate that made them ill.

Using software developed by Columbia University, the project initially culled a week’s worth of data. It’s now being done daily, which could provide a more real-time synopsis of dangerous issues. Officials say they want to enlist the help of other sites as well, to provide a broader scope.

Though the program may not lead to finding improperly prepared or stored foods, it can lead to investigations that discover unsanitary kitchen conditions. An improperly sanitized cutting board or poorly functioning refrigeration unit can be just as dangerous as skunky fish.

Yelp has been working with health agencies to get ratings displayed on their site, so the relationship is nothing new. Luther Lowe, Director of Government Affairs for Yelp, said “We’re now taking this a step further by providing a two-way street for the data: Alert environmental health inspectors when an outbreak occurs while providing the latest inspection information to diners. Our partnership could lead to a dramatic reduction in food-borne illness.”

Source: The New York Times

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