Turns out Yelp can do more than help you find a decent burrito spot that's open at 3 a.m. According to a new report, New York health authorities have used the small business recommendation service to track down food establishments that are poisoning their customers.
The details of a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has adopted use of a custom software to identify restaurants that might have broken health codes. Here's how it worked: the software trawled through Yelp reviews for keywords indicating food poisoning (for instance, "sick" and "vomit") and helped officials determine whether and how to investigate further.
Some 893 reviews were used, of which more than 50 percent "described an event consistent with foodborne illness." Yikes. After following up, authorities found that all three of the restaurants probed were indeed guilty of "food-handling" violations.
"To shorten the time from review to investigation, Yelp will provide daily instead of weekly review feeds, and, to increase sensitivity, the project will be expanded to include additional review websites," the report read, following from the conclusion that review services can "help to identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness and restaurants with deficiencies in food handling."
Sometimes technology is pretty useful after all.