July 18, 2018

FoodBorne Chicago Uses Twitter to Track Illness, Find Offenders

RestaurantCan Twitter be used to identify sources of food poisoning ? FoodBorne Chicago, found success with a trial run and now Boston and New York are considering similar programs.

FoodBorne Chicago is a project of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization with the goal of using technology to improve the lives. Using an algorithm, FoodBorne Chicago tracked tweets originating from the Chicago area that mentioned food poisoning.

During the 10-month study period, March 2013–January 2014,  2,241 tweets mentioning food poisoning originated from the Chicago metropolitan area. Of those, 270 described specific instances of food poisoning, eight of whom said they sought medical attention. Project staffers replied to these tweets saying “Help us prevent this and report where you ate here (link to Foodborne Chicago and a web form to report the illness).”

During the study, 193 people filed complaints on the web form. Project staff members don’t know how many came from Twitter and how many visited the site on their own and filed out a form. There were 133 restaurants named in the complaint forms. Health inspectors were sent to all of them. Twenty one restaurants failed inspection,  33 passed with critical or serious violations. Of all restaurant insepctions during the the study period, inspections generated by complaints to FoodBorne Chicago accounted for 4.3 percent of all failed inspections and 11.4 percent of passes with conditions.

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