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November 11, 2015: Twitter Tracks Food Poisoning Outbreaks

As more and more people constantly update their public internet profiles in order “share” every activity and feeling of their day, more and more information is becoming available about the aggregate of young social media users. If hundreds of Twitter-users in a small area “tweet” a similar feeling, sight, or activity, an assumption may be made about some sensation within that area. For example, if twenty people tweet that they are stuck in unusually heavy traffic on First Avenue (even though they should not be tweeting while driving), one could assume that there is construction or an accident on First Avenue.

Why Twitter Tracks Food Poisoning

This is why, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the administration responsible for food safety in the United Kingdom, Twitter is the surprisingly effective new tool to prevent and track disease and food poisoning outbreaks. The agency reports that by tracking social media they can pre-empt or predict a major disease outbreak by about two-weeks, which can be invaluable time to health agencies and hospitals, so they can prepare for an influx of patients. This information can also be used to target restaurants for inspection, or follow the path of a norovirus. This is why, as of November 11, 2015, the FSA has officially reported their successful use of this type of tracking, and plan to continue and expand usage.
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The Weinberg Law Firm has helped food poisoning victims nationwide receive compensation for their injuries and related damages. If you or a loved one has been injured after eating a contaminated food product or restaurant meal, and you would like to know more about your legal rights, please call our lawyers at 1-877-934-6274.

For more information on Food Poisoning and your legal rights visit Food Poisoning Lawsuit Help.

How Twitter Tracks Food Poisoning

Twitter, however, does not have specific operations to organize tweets in a way that targets both the themes that would be useful to a public health organization and the common locations of such tweets. That is why, in 2013, researchers at the University of Rochester developed nEmesis, “an end-to-end system that automatically identifies restaurants posing public health risks.”

In the researchers own words, Twitter users are “noisy sensors,” utilized to alert this system through keywords or phrases in their tweets, like “tummy hurts”, “I ate @restaurant and now I have diarrhea”, or “sick”. Then nEmesis matches applicable tweets to their recent GPS coordinates in order to match the reported illness to a specific establishment. The researchers explain the dual significance of this new information-gathering technology: “nEmesis extracts important signals that enable individuals to make informed decisions (e.g., “What is the probability that I will get sick if I eat lunch here?”) and opens new opportunities for public health management (e.g., ‘Given a limited budget, which restaurants should we inspect today?’).”

To see the entire study, visit “nEmesis: Which Restaurants Should You Avoid Today?”

What is a food poisoning outbreak?

A food poisoning outbreak occurs when two or more people develop a similar illness after ingesting a common food or drink. An outbreak may be confined to a specific town or region, for example, a group of people become ill after eating at the same restaurant or purchasing food from a local grocery store. Or, the outbreak may be widespread, with hundreds to thousands of people sickened across multiple states, often over a longer period of time. This can occur, for example, when food is contaminated at an industrial processing plant and is then shipped nationwide to unsuspecting consumers.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Food poisoning symptoms and symptom onset will vary due to the type of foodborne infection. Symptoms may include abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, and dehydration. The elderly, young, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals may be at an increased risk for developing food poisoning complications. Protect yourself and your loved ones by directing health related questions and concerns to your doctor.

For more information on food poisoning visit Frequently Asked Questions About Food Poisoning.

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