NEW YORK May 22 Reviewers on the online
restaurant and business rating site, Yelp, helped New York City
health officials find hundreds of unreported cases of possible
food borne illnesses, health officials reported on Thursday.
Researchers involved in a pilot project between the New York
City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia
University and Yelp trawled the site for reviews that included
words like "sick," "vomit," "diarrhea" and "food poisoning,"
between July 2012 and March 2013.
Roughly 294,000 Yelp reviews were analyzed, and researchers
found 468 posts that were consistent with cases of recent food
borne illnesses. Only 15 of those cases had been independently
reported to the health department.
"The results suggest that online restaurant reviews might
help to identify unreported outbreaks of food borne illness and
restaurants with deficiencies in food handling," researchers
wrote in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Thursday.
Further review into those nearly 500 cases led the
department to launch three investigations into
restaurant-related food poisoning outbreaks. The department
found that 16 people were sickened by dishes such as shrimp and
lobster cannelloni, and macaroni and cheese spring rolls because
to improper cold food storage, bare-hand contact with the food
and live roaches.
The report noted, however, that the analysis was limited by
requiring considerable time and resources reading reviews,
sending emails and conducting interviews. Researchers also
needed to make contact with reviewers and over 100 refused
requests for follow-up interviews.
"As social media usage continues to grow among U.S. adults,
health departments might consider additional surveillance
methods to capture illness reports from those more likely to
post a restaurant review online than contact a health
department," the researchers wrote.
The city's department of health plans to continue refining
and improving the project, the report added.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner. Editing by Andre Grenon)