In food-poisoning search, officials call for Yelp - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

In food-poisoning search, officials call for Yelp

Posted: Updated:

By MIKE STOBBE

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is using a novel way to uncover cases of food poisoning — reading Yelp restaurant reviews.

Health officials found three unreported outbreaks by sifting through nearly 300,000 reviews on the popular website. The outbreaks were small, together blamed for only 16 illnesses.

But one expert called it an innovative way to catch clusters of food poisoning.

"Great idea!" said Mike Doyle, head of the University of Georgia's food safety center. "Many people don't know how to contact the health department, but they're so familiar with social media."

It's the latest example of using the Internet to track illnesses. Others have trolled Twitter, Facebook postings and Google searches in an attempt to monitor and predict ailments like the flu.

In New York, outbreaks were traced to three restaurants and inspectors found food handling problems at all three. Officials were also able to figure out the tainted food involved, but couldn't say exactly what germ in the food made people sick.

Traditionally, health officials hear about potential food poisonings from doctor reports and phone calls from people who say they got sick. In New York each year, about 3,000 people complain to the city's service hotline. Only about 1 percent of those calls pan out and lead to a cluster of illnesses.

The health department got the idea for using Yelp after seeing chatter that helped with a monthlong restaurant investigation in 2011.

Officials reached out to Yelp, and the website agreed to help with a pilot project, said the health department's Dr. Sharon Balter. Crucial to their investigations is finding the people who get sick, and Yelp members have email accounts that can make that easier, she said.

Yelp sent the health department weekly roundups of restaurant reviews for nine months, beginning in mid-2012. Computer searches narrowed them to postings that mentioned someone getting sick. Investigators focused on illnesses that occurred between 12 and 36 hours after a meal — the time frame for most symptoms of food poisoning to surface.

"Most people assume they got sick from the last place they ate," but that's not always the case, Balter said.

They also concentrated on clusters, not single cases. Other germs besides those in tainted meals can cause food poisoning symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Officials sent emails to 129 reviewers, but only 27 agreed to be interviewed.

The pilot project was described in a report published online Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York is continuing to monitor Yelp reviews, now with a daily report, and is exploring expanding to social media sites like Twitter, Balter said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


  • HealthMore>>

  • Affordable Care Act

    Federal courts issue contradictory rulings on Obamacare subsidies

    Federal courts issue contradictory rulings on Obamacare subsidies

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 2:30 PM EDT2014-07-22 18:30:22 GMT
    President Barack Obama's health care law is enmeshed in another big legal battle after two federal appeals courts issued contradictory rulings on a key financing issue within hours of each other Tuesday. A divided court panel in Washington called into question the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people pay their premiums, saying financial aid can be paid only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges.
    President Barack Obama's health care law is enmeshed in another big legal battle after two federal appeals courts issued contradictory rulings on a key financing issue within hours of each other Tuesday. A divided court panel in Washington called into question the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people pay their premiums, saying financial aid can be paid only in states that have set up their own insurance markets, or exchanges.
  • Parents of children with autism need help, too

    Parents of children with autism need help, too

    Most therapies for autism focus on the child, but new research suggests the child's stressed-out parents could benefit from treatments designed specifically for them.
    Most therapies for autism focus on the child, but new research suggests the child's stressed-out parents could benefit from treatments designed specifically for them.
  • Blood test might help predict survival with Lou Gehrig's disease

    Blood test might help predict survival with Lou Gehrig's disease

    Simple blood tests may one day help predict survival and the course of the disease in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, Italian researchers report.
    Simple blood tests may one day help predict survival and the course of the disease in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, Italian researchers report.
  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Manhattan West Project

    Skyline of West Side is changing

    Skyline of West Side is changing

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 6:25 PM EDT2014-07-22 22:25:22 GMT
    The Manhattan West Project is a $4.5 billion development that will change the skyline on the West Side. The five-acre site that will consist of office towers, a residential building, retail, a 5-star hotel, health and fitness facilities, rooftop gardens, restaurants, cafes, and a park is being built on top of active rail yards. Fox 5 got a look at the progress of the project.
    The Manhattan West Project is a $4.5 billion development that will change the skyline on the West Side. The five-acre site that will consist of office towers, a residential building, retail, a 5-star hotel, health and fitness facilities, rooftop gardens, restaurants, cafes, and a park is being built on top of active rail yards. Fox 5 got a look at the progress of the project.
  • Anaconda sightings in Lake Hopatcong reported

    Anaconda sightings in Lake Hopatcong reported

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:59 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:59:16 GMT
    Boaters in Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey are keeping an eye out for an unwanted visitor lurking underwater: a 14- or 15-foot-ong snake, possibly a green anaconda. Several people have seen the reptile, which has probably holed up in a drain pipe. Reptile specialists are also searching the lake for signs of the snake. So far no more sightings have been reported.
    Boaters in Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey are keeping an eye out for an unwanted visitor lurking underwater: a 14- or 15-foot-ong snake, possibly a green anaconda. Several people have seen the reptile, which has probably holed up in a drain pipe. Reptile specialists are also searching the lake for signs of the snake. So far no more sightings have been reported.
  • Suspect arrested in 1990s cold-case murders on Long Island

    Suspect arrested in 1990s cold-case murders on Long Island

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 5:00 PM EDT2014-07-22 21:00:17 GMT
    SCPD photoSCPD photo
    Authorities on Long Island have arrested a suspect in two cold case murders dating to the 1990s. John Bittrolff, a married father of two, is the lead suspect in the deaths of two prostitutes whose bodies were found within months of each other in late 1993 and early 1994, authorities said. Police arrested the 48-year-old, who was arraigned at the district court in Central Islip.
    Authorities on Long Island have arrested a suspect in two cold case murders dating to the 1990s. John Bittrolff, a married father of two, is the lead suspect in the deaths of two prostitutes whose bodies were found within months of each other in late 1993 and early 1994, authorities said. Police arrested the 48-year-old, who was arraigned at the district court in Central Islip.
Powered by WorldNow

WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
5151 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
Main Number: (202) 244-5151
Newsroom: (202) 895-3000
fox5tips@wttg.com

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices