NYC Department of Health now using Yelp to track food poisoning

The city just discovered what savvy foodies have know about for ages.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Published May 23, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 6:30 am CDT

The New York City Health Department is now tracking words like “vomit’ and “diarrhea” in Yelp reviews to find and track food poisoning at restaurants around the city. If the watchful eye of the health inspector sees a trend emerging, the department may try to track you down if a meal made you sick.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene just completed a pilot project for the new method, which helps identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness using software developed by Columbia University, the New York Times reports.

Luckily, the city feels it can rely on New Yorkers on Yelp to always be extremely graphic with stories of post-meal vomiting and diarrhea.

City researchers looked through 294,000 Yelp reviews and substantiated three outbreaks when 16 people fell ill after eating house salad, shrimp and lobster cannelloni, and mac and cheese spring rolls at three unidentified eateries

“With food-borne illnesses, it’s much better to reach people sooner,” Dr. Sharon Balter, a medical epidemiologist with the city’s health department, told the Times.

“When investigating an outbreak, we want to know what people who got sick ate, who else was with them and what items they all ate together. If you wait, people forget.”

Now the program is in full swing and Yelp reviews are being examined daily by the city.

H/T New York Times | Photo via Lara604 (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: May 23, 2014, 1:12 pm CDT