Twitter Tracker Dinesafe

Could Twitter help DineSafe flag offending restaurants?

Toronto Public Health says using Twitter to track restaurants that practice poor food safety practices, and thus give people food poisoning, isn't such a bad idea. Researchers in the U.S. have found a way to mine Twitter to collect reports of food poisoning. The system is called nEmesis, and it picks up on geo-tagged tweets mentioning restaurants. The person's tweets are tracked for 72 hours following their visit to the restaurant for indications of food poisoning. The algorithm then looks for mention of terms like stomach ache, vomiting and Pepto Bismol to determine if a person possibly picked up food poisoning.

Public Health officials say the app could help the city's DineSafe initiative. "I'm interested in any new tool and anything that can help Toronto Public Health to identify risk factors and places that are more likely to contribute to food-borne illness," said Sylvanus Thompson, an associate director with Toronto Public Health, told the Star. According to a 2009 report, about one in six Torontonians get food-borne illness each year.

There are obvious issues with this, of course. A person could easily eat at a restaurant and become ill in the next 72 hours without the illness having anything to do with food poisoning. Or they could make false claims. The researchers plan for the app to become a tool singling out restaurants to avoid or inspect, but it might be cause for a few slander suits along the way.

What do you think? Could this be a reasonable way to track restaurants whose practices cause food poisoning?


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