Sharing your traumatic restaurant ordeals on Yelp is now civic matter: The NYC Health Department is tracking terms like "vomit" and "diarrhea" in Yelp reviews to find instances of food poisoning at restaurants. So please continue to be extremely graphic when describing your confrontation with a terrible meal!
The NY Times reports, "Using a software program developed by Columbia University, city researchers combed through 294,000 Yelp reviews for New York City restaurants over a period of nine months in 2012 and 2013, searching for words like 'sick,' 'vomit” and 'diarrhea,' along with other details. After investigating those reports, the researchers substantiated three instances when 16 people had been sickened. Those people had eaten the house salad; shrimp and lobster cannelloni; and macaroni and cheese spring rolls at three restaurants that the agencies are not identifying."
The Centers for Disease Control has the report online and the methodology is fascinating:
Reviews submitted to Yelp during July 1, 2012-March 31, 2013 were analyzed. All reviews with an average review score of ≥0.5 were evaluated by a foodborne disease epidemiologist (Figure). Because the average review score was calculated by averaging the individual criteria scores, reviews could receive an average score of ≥0.5 without meeting all individual criteria.
Reviews with an average review score of ≥0.5 were evaluated for the following three criteria: 1) consistent with foodborne illness occurring after a meal, rather than an alternative explanation for the illness keyword; 2) meal date within 4 weeks of review (or no meal date provided); 3) two or more persons ill or a single person with symptoms of scombroid poisoning or severe neurologic illness. Reviews that met all three of these criteria were then investigated further by DOHMH. In addition, reviews were investigated further if manual checking identified multiple reviews within 1 week that described recent foodborne illness at the same restaurant.
NYC Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Sharon Balter told the Times that while they were investigating food illness claims at a restaurant, one colleague "who used Yelp decided to look up reviews of that restaurant; she noticed that some people had posted complaints of falling sick after eating there. Using her Yelp account, she reached out to the posters, asking if they would talk to the Health Department."
The Health Department is going to be checking Yelp daily, so please continue to do your part by filing reviews like this one: "Save your money and save your intestines!! After eating their food I got explosive diarrhea for three days!! STAY AWAY!!!!!!!!!"