Twitter

Social Media Helps Health Officials Detect Food Poisoning Outbreaks

What to Know

  • A computer program hunts for complaints of food-borne illness on Yelp and Twitter.
  • The information goes to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which investigates.
  • Others use social media to search for cases of food poisoning, such as Harvard Medical School, and health officials in Chicago and Nevada.

Food poisoning is the last thing you want to read in a review about a restaurant on social media. Though these negative comments are not always reliable, they may help governments detect potential food poisoning outbreaks.

A team of developers at Columbia Engineering designed a computer program that hunts for complaints of food-borne illness on Yelp and Twitter.

“It picks up on keywords and key phrases that you as a person would associate with it, like 'I got sick' or 'I got food poisoning,'" said Thomas Effland, the program’s creator and a Columbia Ph.D. student.

The information goes to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which investigates the claims that may have otherwise gone undetected. According to a study, the program has helped identify 10 outbreaks.

Others are using social media to search for new cases of food poisoning, such as Harvard Medical School, and health officials in Chicago and Nevada. 

Even though sharing on social media may seem helpful, Consumer Reports recommends you go through official channels to alert authorities so they can investigate immediately.

“If someone is really concerned about whether there’s an outbreak at a restaurant, they should really be consulting their local public health department,” Consumer Reports Health Editor Julia Calderone said. 

If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, Consumer Reports says you should try to stay hydrated and of course consult your doctor.

Contact Us