Health Officials Using Social Media to Track Food Poisoning Outbreaks

That nasty review on Yelp could just save you from food poisoning. Its true, as health officials are now using social media to track outbreaks and issue alerts. Food poisoning be gone.


Many people leave feedback online of new restaurants. While these reviews can be both good and bad, they may be able to help government organizations track outbreaks of food poisoning.

Columbia Engineering Ph.D. student Thomas Effland and a team of developers have created a program that looks for complaints of food-borne illnesses on social media platforms like Yelp and Twitter. According to Effland, “Basically it picks up on keywords and key phrases that you as a person would associate with it. I got sick, or I got food poisoning.”

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The program gathers information that can be used by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to track outbreaks. And according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, this program has already aided the department in detecting 10 outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

About 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne illnesses every year. This program alone has the potential to prevent massive outbreaks of food poisoning.

Health officials in Chicago and Nevada, as well as Harvard Medical School, are beginning to use social media to track cases of food poisoning as well. However, officials caution against believing every review that is written and solely relying on social media reviews for food poisoning warnings.


Besides tracking social media, how else can people avoid food poisoning?

When cooking at home, remember that temperature is key. Cooked food is only safe to eat after its internal temperature is heated high enough to kill bacteria. Because of this, food should always be cooked thoroughly. To avoid food poisoning at home, use a food thermometer and store both fresh food and leftovers properly.

Furthermore, always keep your kitchen clean. Rinse off utensils and cutting boards before using them to prep or eat food.

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Common symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, and fever. If these symptoms are prolonged, people may want to consider a hospital visit. More than three million patients visit an urgent care center each week. While there is no magic cure for food poisoning, it’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms persist or are continuing to worsen. This could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Stomach problems can be fairly easy to prevent at home. It’s important to remember to follow instructions and cook safely. As for eating out, online reviews may prove to be more helpful than initially thought.



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