Yelp tests warnings for restaurants with low safety scores

San Francisco restaurants with low safety-inspection scores are being flagged in their Yelp listing as potential health threats, a service researchers are eying as a possible public protection, WashingtonPost.com reports.  

The website calls the postings a test. Places whose sanitation scores fall within the lowest 5 percent of all restaurants’ ratings are tagged with a red box and a headline reading, “Consumer Alert: Poor Food Safety Score!” The accompanying text explains that the score was awarded by a city inspector, and that the warning would remain in place until the potential hazards are addressed.

User-fed review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor have played an unofficial role in alerting safety officials and consumers about possible outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The first signs of a Shigella contamination within a Bay Area restaurant, for instance, came in social media postings by acquaintances of the early victims.

But the San Francisco test is believed to be the first time Yelp has systematically included food-safety warnings in the information it presents about a restaurant.

The test is being conducted in concert with Harvard University professor Michael Luca. Among the dynamics he is reportedly exploring is whether a good review of a restaurant trumps a safety warning, or vice-versa. 

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