The City of New York Uses Yelp to ID Foodborne Illness

With more than 142 million rich, local reviews, Yelp data can tell us so much about the world we live in, whether it’s ranking local small business economies, identifying food trends, or simply finding a great sports bar to watch the big game. This week, a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association finds that the New York City Department of Health, in partnership with Columbia University, is successfully using data made available by Yelp to identify foodborne illness and outbreaks in restaurants.

Since 2012, NYC’s Health Department has been using a machine learning algorithm created by Columbia University’s Computer Science Department to track foodborne illness based on mentions of keywords in Yelp reviews. Using this system, the City of New York says it has identified more than 8,500 complaints of foodborne illness over the past 5 and a half years – that’s roughly 1,500 complaints per year! Without the power of Yelp reviews, these potential warnings might otherwise go undetected.

According to the CDC, 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne diseases every year, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 people die. That’s why we believe consumers deserve access to important health information at the moment they’re making a spending decision. As part of our Consumer Protection Initiative, Yelp has multiple alerts in place to display this useful information, including our LIVES program which works directly with local municipalities and HDScores to display restaurant hygiene inspection data as a business attribute on Yelp. Currently, we display health scores on the Yelp pages of more than 200,000 restaurants, and the program is still growing! We look forward to working more closely with New York and other states to incorporate their health score data in the future.