April 11, 2024

New Twitter App Tracks Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in Chicago

We’ve told you before about apps that can help keep you safe from food poisoning, and how Twitter may be playing a role in foodborne illess outbreak investigations. Now a company in Chicago has created a new Twitter app called Foodborne Chicago. The project is part of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, an organization “devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology.”

Food Poisoning TorsoThe app asks people who think they contracted food poisoning at a restaurant to fill out a form, which is sent to the Chicago Department of Public Health. The app also uses computer codes to search Twitter for anything relating to food poisoning in the Chicago area. People review the tweets and reply back to people who posted about them, asking them to fill out the web form. The form asks which restaurant the person believes is linked to the illness, what the person ate, and when they got sick.

There are about 6,000 complaints of foodborne illness relating to restaurants in Chicago every year, which prompt 174 restaurant investigations. But since about 45% of all foodborne illness cases go unreported, the people at Foodborne Chicago want to raise awareness and get more people to report illness.

Chicago has the 311 system in place for complaints about restaurants. When food poisoning is suspected, the complaints are routed to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Public health officials follow up with the sick person, and if warranted, the restaurant is inspected.

Other apps are also available, including Clean Eats, which posts restaurant inspections for facilities in Los Angeles County, California; New York City, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and San Francisco. And an app called nEmesis uses location-based tweets to find anyone who reports illness after a restaurant visit. That particular app is just a research tool at this point, but may be used by publish health officials in the future.


  1. That looks like a pretty useful app that everybody should have. I do hope that such apps will be available worldwide in a near future.

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