Twitter-trolling health inspectors

In the Social Media Age, the language that constitutes a formal complaint has evolved. On Twitter, “This sucks! Gross. #foodpoisoning” may be all the earnest needed to launch a food-safety investigation at a restaurant.

That’s because Public health officials in Chicago have found success tracking and following up on tweets to spot potential health violations. According to a new CDC report, during a 10-month period last year, the Chicago Department of Public Health mined Twitter for local posts mentioning “food poisoning.” CDPH staff replied to those posters who clearly contracted their  illness at a restaurant and urged them to report it online.

The effort contributed to the filing of 193 complaints that resulted in 133 restaurant inspections; 122 of them were found to have at least one health violation. Chicago is now working Chicago is now working with public health departments in Boston and New York City to adapt the program there.

By press time, the Illinois Restaurant Association had not replied to our requests for comment but has said publically that they support the department’s commitment to food safety, as long as steps are taken to avoid fraudulent or erroneous submissions.

Twitter isn’t the only social-media site on inspectors’ radar. Two years ago, New York City health officials ran a pilot project to identify reviews that mentioned “food poisoning” on Yelp.


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