Could Foodborne Illness Outbreaks be Stopped by Yelp?


Yelp, the popular restaurant review (and other services) website, may be helpful in more ways than just showing you where to grab a delicious dinner. If you’ve ever scrolled through those reviews thinking that people were being dramatic when they claimed the food made them sick, you may want to take heed. Turns out the site may indirectly serve as a map to foodborne illness outbreaks.

According to NPR, health officials in New York City recently used Yelp to see if they could track down unreported foodborne illness outbreaks in the city. The research was published in a recent issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The researchers scoured through some 294,000 Yelp reviews posted in a nine-month period between 2012 and 2013. There were 900 reviews that mentioned illnesses including vomiting and diarrhea after eating at certain restaurants. “Of those, nearly 500 people had described an episode consistent with foodborne illness, but only 3 percent of these incidents had been reported to New York City’s non-emergency 311 services,” reported NPR’s The Salt.

The reviews led to inspections of some restaurants that identified issues with proper food handling as well as improper cold food storage, which was linked to three Yelp reports of illness after people ate shrimp and lobster. Other findings included mouse and roach infestations as well as improper utensil storage.

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 50 million people are sickened by foodborne illnesses. “But only a tiny fraction of those cases get reported, making it tough to figure out where they came from,” explains NPR.

Pathogens including salmonella, listeria and e. coli are some of the most common sources of food poisoning. Meat, egg, seafood and dairy products are some of the most common sources for foodborne illnesses as bacteria present in many animals wind up in the food.

Recent food recalls including three walnut recalls, 1.8 million pounds of beef and close to seven tons of hummus are just some examples of how widespread and common foodborne illnesses are.


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