Monday, 8 September 2014
The Simple Way to Dodge Food Poisoning
Let disgruntled customers be your guide…about where not to eat. Recently published research in the journal Preventive Medicine suggests that Yelp, the popular consumer review website that averages 138 million visitors per month, may be useful for more than finding the best fish tacos in town.
The site features 61 million customer-written reviews of businesses across the globe, but is perhaps best known as a tool for tracking down yummy local eats. And according to the Preventive Medicine researchers, Yelp may also be an easy way to flag food-borne outbreaks before they balloon.
The scientists analyzed reviews of 5,824 food-service businesses from 2005 to 2012, and compared customers’ complaints of food poisoning to CDC outbreak reports. What they found: In both data sets, the most frequently implicated foods were beef, dairy, grains, beans, poultry, and vegetables grown on vines or stalks—a finding that study author Elaine Nsoesie, Ph.D., called “striking.” Because Yelp’s reviews correlate so strongly to CDC data, “this might be a pretty useful tool for tracking foodborne illnesses,” she said.
Yelp may be especially relevant to scientists like Nsoesie since reviews are often posted in near real-time, reducing the delay between reports of food poisoning and an investigation into the cause. Plus, “lots of people are willing to share information on social media who might not be willing to give this information through the traditional forums,” Nsoesie said. In other words, you might not bother to tell your doctor about the foot-long hoagie that made you sick, but you might clue in the Yelp community.
The researchers are also considering social media outlets, such as Twitter, as tools for tracking potential foodborne outbreaks.
Negative reports are equally useful for hungry people trying to decide where to dine, especially if multiple reviewers have recently posted food-poisoning complaints. “You want to look at how many people are saying the same thing,” said Nsoesie. If only one out of 100 reviews is negative, then you might not have great cause for concern.
And do your fellow Yelpers a favor: If you’re the unlucky diner who happens to get sick, post a report online as quickly as you’re able. “The more timely the data, the more useful it is,” Nsoesie said.