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How the NYC Health Dept Used Yelp to Track Unreported Food Poisoning Cases

Looks like Yelp is useful for more than posting scathing restaurant reviews: According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City health officials are using the website to find unreported cases of foodborne illness. Using a software program developed by Columbia University, the researchers searched for specific terms like "sick," "vomit," "diarrhea," and "food poisoning," looking through 294,000 Yelp reviews from a period of nine months between 2012 and 2013.

Researchers investigated each viable complaint further, following up with Yelp reviewers to verify the information and get more details regarding the incident. After doing so, the researchers confirmed 16 people had become sick after eating dishes like a house salad, something called "macaroni and cheese spring rolls," and a shrimp and lobster cannelloni at three restaurants the report did not identify by name.

Even though researchers were only able to identify three unreported restaurant outbreaks out of the 468 food illness complaints posted on Yelp, the project will continue. According the New York Times, officials note that unlike other social media outlets, Yelp allows them to quickly track down individuals. The CDC has used data from internet platforms to identify health issues before: According to The Verge, the agency has partnered with Google to use its tracking of search terms to predict flu outbreaks.

· Using Online Reviews by Restaurant Patrons to Identify Unreported Cases of Foodborne Illness [CDC]
· Reviews on Yelp Help Track Illness [NYT]
· All Yelp Coverage on Eater [-E-]