Yelp restaurant reviews identify food poisoning outbreaks, researchers say

The investigation of food poisoning outbreaks usually starts with a lab report followed by an interview with the patient. But New York City officials have discovered a novel method that identified illnesses they didn't know about: Yelp restaurant reviews.

It all started in 2012 with a restaurant-related outbreak, according to a study published in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Thursday. New York City health officials said they discovered new cases by reading Yelp reviews. Only a fraction of people affected by an outbreak go to the doctor and get tested. But it's easy to slam out a post. Officials figured they could turn up more unknown cases if they scanned reviews, which Yelp supplied on a weekly basis.

In collaboration with Columbia University, researchers used software to analyze 294,000 Yelp reviews between July 2012 and March 2013. The software looked for keywords such as "sick," "vomit," "diarrhea" or "food poisoning."

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