NYC Using Yelp Reviews to Locate Sources of Mass Food Poisoning

The search yielded plenty of mice and cockroaches, too.

Doc, I'm sick (Flickr).
Doc, I’m sick (Flickr).

While we’re busy testing which emojis we can use on Yelp, NYC is using the site to fight food crime.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is using Yelp reviews to identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness in city restaurants, according to a report released today.

The report explains that the DOHMH used computer software to analyze 294,000 Yelp restaurant reviews between July 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013. The program found 893 reviews that required further evaluation by a foodborne disease epidemiologist.

There were 499 reviews that specifically described symptoms of foodborne illness, such as diarrhea or vomiting.

Upon further investigation, the DOHMH ended up discovering three unreported restaurant-related outbreaks that were responsible for 16 illnesses. Sure, those aren’t huge numbers, but creating even one fewer potential source of all-night vomiting is still a win, right?

Within those three restaurants, investigators found multiple food-handling violations including cross-contamination, improper thawing procedures, improper cold food storage, and failure to wash produce.

Of course, there were mice and roaches involved too.

The project proved successful, and the DOHMH plans to refine their methods to continue fighting foodborne illness in NYC.  They will receive daily, rather than weekly, reports form Yelp, and will expand to other review sites as well. Additionally, they’ll utilize electronic surveys to increase response rate.

They’re also looking to link reviews from different users on different sites that point fingers at the same restaurants.

+1 for using the Internet for good not evil. Good job, NYC.

(h/t Huffington Post)

NYC Using Yelp Reviews to Locate Sources of Mass Food Poisoning