Identifying foodborne outbreaks using social media

As a new survey shows 95% of chefs cite customers getting sick as their top concern, a computer system developed by Columbia University with Health Department epidemiologists can detect foodborne illness and outbreaks in New York City restaurants based on keywords in Yelp reviews.

Using Yelp, 311, and reports from health care providers, the Health Department has identified and investigated approximately 28,000 complaints of suspected foodborne illness overall since 2012 and helped Health Department staff identify approximately 1,500 complaints of foodborne illness in NYC each year, for a total of 8,523 since July 2012.

Improvements to the computer system are the subject of a joint study published this week by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The Health Department and Columbia continue to expand the system to include other social media sources, such as Twitter, which was added to the system in November 2016. The computer system allows the Health Department to investigate incidents and outbreaks that might otherwise go undetected. New Yorkers are encouraged to call 311 to report any suspected foodborne illness.

“Working with our partners at Columbia University, the Health Department continues to expand its foodborne illness surveillance capabilities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Today we not only look at complaints from 311, but we also monitor online sites and social media. I look forward to working with Columbia University on future efforts to build on this system. The Health Department follows up on all reports of foodborne illness – whether it is reported to 311 or Yelp.”

Each year,

“Effective information extraction regarding foodborne illness from social media is of high importance–online restaurant review sites are popular and many people are more likely to discuss food poisoning incidents in such sites than on official government channels,” said Luis Gravano and Daniel Hsu, who are coauthors of the study and professors of Computer Science at Columbia Engineering. “Using machine learning has already had a significant impact on the detection of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.”

“The collaboration with Columbia University to identify reports of food poisoning in social media is crucial to improve foodborne illness outbreak detection efforts in New York City,” said Health Department epidemiologists Vasudha Reddy and Katelynn Devinney, who are coauthors of the publication. “The incorporation of new data sources allows us to detect outbreaks that may not have been reported and for the earlier identification of outbreaks to prevent more New Yorkers from becoming sick.”

“I applaud DOHMH Commissioner Bassett for embracing the role that crowdsourcing technology can play in identifying outbreaks of foodborne illness. Public health must be forward-thinking in its approach to triaging both everyday and acute medical concerns,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Most restaurant-associated outbreaks are identified through the Health Department’s complaint system, which includes 311, Yelp, and reports from health care providers. Since 2012, the Department has identified and investigated approximately 28,000 suspected complaints of foodborne illness overall. The Health Department reviews and investigates all complaints of suspected foodborne illness in New York City.

14 sickened in 2016: UK steakhouse fined 50K for serving food on wooden boards

A restaurant has been slapped with an $86,000 fine for serving food on wooden boards after 14 people allegedly suffered food poisoning.

Ibrahim’s Grill and Steakhouse in Birmingham was handed the fine last week.

Birmingham City Council tweeted health inspectors had been called to the outlet in October 2016 amid claims 14 people suffered food poisoning.

Along with disposable gloves being used instead of hand washing, authorities noted that wooden plates “incapable of being cleaned” were used to serve food.

“On a return visit in December 2016…wooden plates were still being used,” the council posted to social media on January 6.

Ibrahim’s Grill and Steakhouse, which maintains a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor, pleaded guilty to the fine at the Birmingham Magistrates Court on January 4.

Along with the 50,000 (A$86,000) fine, the restaurant will be forced to pay A$1158 in costs and A$200 “victim surcharge”.

“It’s completely unacceptable for businesses to put the health of people eating at their restaurant at risk,” Birmingham Head of Environmental Health Mark Croxford said in an official statement.

Letter grades coming to Milwaukee restaurants

You’ll soon see letter grades reflecting the number of health code violations at restaurants in Milwaukee.

The hope is to cut down on foodborne illnesses.

In 2018, letter grades will be given to restaurants inspected by the city but posting them will be voluntary. Then in 2019, all restaurants will need to put those grades up for the public to see.

CBS 58 News stopped by the 5’O Clock Steakhouse, the first restaurant graded under the new system.

“2018 marks 72 years that this restaurant has been operating. So there’s like a lot of restaurants who are kind of stuck in doing things a certain way and traditions. And you have to maintain the character of who you are as a restaurant but there are certain things that do change,” said Stelio Kalkounos, Managing Partner at 5 O’Clock Steakhouse. 

That includes the city inspection policy.

“These letter grades are going to be posted so that everyone can know exactly where a restaurant stands and everyone can make certain they can dine with confidence that food safety and the lack of foodborne illness is our number one goal here,” said Bevan Baker, Commissioner of Health. 

5’O Clock Steakhouse got an “A.”

Restaurants can get an “A” “B” or “C” grade. A “C” means the place may have to temporarily close.

 

Everyone’s got a camera: Guam restaurant inspection edition

The Guam Daily Post reports that local dining favorite Old Town Chinese Restaurant, usually packed for dinner on a Friday night for its “homestyle” Shanghai cuisine, went silent yesterday. The dining crowd was locked out.

Old Town became the latest casualty in the public’s ever-increasing vigilance on food safety at restaurants, stores and even in one hotel.

Tips from concerned citizens, often accompanied by photos taken on their smartphones and widely circulated on social media – and also provided to the Department of Public Health and Social Services – have increased the temporary closures of food businesses.

In Old Town’s case, a customer complained to the public health agency of finding ants inside roast duck.

“Some evidence to support the complaint was observed,” states the inspection report, released upon request yesterday following a Thursday inspection.

The ants complaint led to numerous findings of food-handling and sanitation issues, the report shows.

From the duh files: UK chief scientific adviser’s report confirms that mandatory display of FHRS drives up food safety compliance

You really didn’t need to do a study.

Toronto proved as much in 2004ish, but I’ve been binge-watching The Crown to try and understand my predecessor’s inkling for things British.

The UK Food Standards Agency has published a new Science Report by its Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Guy Poppy. In his seventh Report, Professor Poppy looks at the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS), and its impact on food safety especially where the scheme is mandatory.

Been there. Done that.

Professor Poppy said: ‘The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme has been a significant development for food safety and one which has delivered tangible benefits for consumers across the country. The scheme has empowered people, helping them to choose to eat in places with higher ratings. This in turn has pushed restaurants and other food businesses to drive up hygiene standards to attract more customers. I’ve also been encouraged that our research has linked higher ratings to lower levels of microbes found in food businesses, ultimately lowering the risk to consumers from foodborne illness.

Mandatory display of hygiene ratings has been successful in Wales and Northern Ireland and I am pleased that the FSA remains committed to seeing these benefits also realised in England.’

Since the introduction of FHRS in 2010 there has been continued improvement in standards of food hygiene at places people choose to eat out or buy food. There are now over 430,000 food hygiene ratings published at food.gov.uk/ratings.

Of those food businesses, 67% achieved the top rating of ‘5 – very good’ and 95% were rated ‘3 – generally satisfactory’ or better.  In Wales and Northern Ireland, food businesses are legally required to display their food hygiene rating. This mandatory requirement has been in place in Wales since 2013 and in Northern Ireland since 2016. Evidence so far has shown that mandatory display has driven improved and sustained food safety compliance by the businesses.

The FSA is committed to introducing similar mandatory display of ratings at food outlets in England. There is an increasing call for this, and latest research indicates that 84% of consumers think that businesses should have to display their food hygiene rating at their premises.

Looking to the future the FSA is improving the way food businesses are regulated, with the aim of developing a sustainable system fit for the 21st century. This includes building on the success of FHRS by strengthening its robustness and resilience and introducing mandatory display.

You’re not royalty. Stop writing like one.

And as long as FSA keeps publishing BS advice, like it did, yet again this year in its annual Let’s Talk Turkey briefing, that stated, “Check that: the meat is steaming hot throughout; there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part and meat juices run clear” I will continue to make fun of your country and customs.

FSA is neither science nor evidence-based.

 

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

 

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Australian bakery that sickened 203 with Salmonella in 1996 fined $130K

In late Jan. 2016, a bakery in Sydney’s south was closed as customers started reporting Salmonella illness.

On Monday, the owners of the Box Village Bakery, Thi Thu Ngo and Hung Son Le, were fined a total of $122,000 and ordered to pay $7,199 professional costs after each was convicted of ten breaches of the Food Act 2003.

The owners the Sylvania bakery at the centre of a Salmonella outbreak that affected more than 200 people, each pleaded guilty to five breaches of selling unsafe food, and five breaches of failing to meet food safety standards and were fined $61,000 each.

There were 203 documented cases of people who had presented to hospitals and other health care providers with symptoms of gastroenteritis including vomiting, diarrhea and fever after consuming bakery items such as chicken rolls and salads that were linked back to the bakery.

During its investigation the NSW Food Authority issued a Prohibition Order requiring the business to cease operations.

The business was only permitted to reopen and trade after it completed extensive work to ensure the bakery had been thoroughly cleaned and fully compliant with food safety laws.

The NSW Food Authority also conducted skills and knowledge testing with staff and management of the business to improve their food safety knowledge and conducted a number of inspections of the premises subsequent to its reopening to ensure it continued to be fit to trade.

CEO of the NSW Food Authority Dr Lisa Szabo said the court result served as a reminder to all food businesses and individuals as to why food safety systems are crucial.

Supplier connection? 27+ sick in Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota 2 Burger King’s closed

Two Burger King restaurants in Bemidji have been forced to shut their doors following a salmonella outbreak.

Minnesota Health Department tells the Star Tribune that since September, they’ve confirmed 27 cases of salmonella linked to the two fast-food restaurants.

 

Officials say there are four other possible cases. Both of the Burger King locations closed voluntarily Thursday to undergo a thorough decontamination process.

Liz Sawyer of the Star Tribune writes that since September, the Minnesota Department of Health has identified 27 confirmed cases and another four probable cases of salmonella with links to the two fast-food restaurants. Both sites voluntarily closed to the public on Thursday to begin the decontamination process.

“Some of the extreme measures we’re taking are that all of their employees need to test negative for salmonella [twice], not sooner than 24 hours apart,” said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the state Department of Health. “Once that’s done, we can do additional cleaning and they can open again.”

Once most cases were reported this fall, the Health Department imposed strict interventions that rigorously cleaned the restaurants and barred employees with symptoms from working for 72 hours.

 

South Carolina Waffle House customer cooks his own meal after finding staff sleeping

At 55, I often doze off.

About 6 years ago, as we drove to Florida, Sorenne said she wanted Waffle House for her birthday.

It was gross, but the kid liked it.

A hungry, slightly inebriated man knew just what to do when he stopped by a South Carolina Waffle House early Thursday only to find the restaurant’s staff snoozing: He cooked up his own meal, snapping selfies along the way.

Alex Bowen said in a Facebook post that he stopped by a Waffle House in West Columbia because he couldn’t sleep.

The restaurant’s employees apparently did not have the same problem.

“I walked back outside to my car to look for employees,” Bowen told WIS. “No one in sight.”

It wasn’t until he walked back inside the restaurant that he noticed an employee snoozing in a corner booth.

“Then it was go time,” Bowen told WIS. “(I) got hot on the grill with a double Texas bacon cheesesteak with extra pickles. When I was done I cleaned the grill, collected my ill-gotten sandwich and rolled out.”

He told WIS that he wouldn’t normally have gotten behind the grill.

“I give all the credit to my old friend vodka,” Bowen said.

Fancy food ain’t safe food: UK ‘excellent’ restaurant given one out of five food hygiene rating

A Lincolnshire restaurant has been given a one out of five for its food hygiene rating.

When environmental services visited the restaurant on October 20 officials found major improvement was necessary.

The main concerns with Portuguese themed Nikita Bar Restaurant, Boston, was the management of food safety – where major improvement was necessary.

The report said the restaurant needed to improve the systems and checks in place that make sure the food sold is safe to eat and evidence the staff know about food safety.

The food safety officer may also have lacked confidence that the standards would be maintained in the future.

The restaurant was also told that improvement was necessary for hygienic food handling.

This can refer to anything from preparation, cooking, re-heating, cooling and storage.

But it was rated as generally satisfactory for cleanliness and condition of the facilities and building.

The restaurant is popular on trip adviser as it has been rated as a five out of five.

One reviewer wrote: “Warm welcome and great food. Dish of the day, carafe of wine, olives, bread and coffee £20 for 2 of us. We will be going back.”

Another reviewer said: “I visit this restaurant frequently. The staff are friendly and the food is delicious and the price is pretty cheap I paid £5.50 for a francesinha which is a Portuguese dish and a pint. I am very satisfied and I highly recommend.”

And another added: “Great staff, good food, cold beer, I pop in her to eat when am passing and I am never disappointed.”

Nikita Bar and Restaurant has been approached for a comment.

Probably Norovirus: At least 35 sickened at Michigan restaurant

Rachel Greco of the Lansing State Journal reports at least 35 people have reported getting sick after eating at downtown Grand Ledge restaurant The Log Jam in the last two weeks, according to public health officials.

The West Jefferson Street restaurant closed Monday, six days after the first eight illness complaints were reported to the health department on Nov. 22, said Abigail Lynch, a spokesperson for the Barry-Eaton County Health Department.

Those Log Jam customers reported eating there Nov. 19, she said.

Lynch said callers reported norovirus symptoms, which include diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting. She said health department staff suspect a norovirus outbreak, but are awaiting test results to confirm it.

The Nov. 22 reports did not prompt the restaurant to close or for the health department to issue a public statement about the suspected outbreak, Lynch said, because the health department didn’t believe there was “an ongoing threat to public health.”

Lynch said department staff visited the restaurant Nov. 22, and staff there cleaned the interior of the eatery with bleach, threw out any prepared food and emphasized hand washing practices with employees.

Since Nov. 22 at least 27 additional reports of illness have been made by Log Jam customers to the health department, Lynch said. Most of those people reported eating at the restaurant Nov. 25 and reports were still coming in, she said. 

“Based on that, when we left on (Nov. 22) we felt we had put proper interventions in place to prevent further illness,” Lynch said. “This just happened to be one of those instances where it wasn’t.”

Lynch said the restaurant was closed Nov. 27 for another cleaning that was supervised by health department staff, and re-opened the next day. She said all of the restaurant’s prepared foods were thrown out and employees were informed again about the importance of hand washing.

A person who answered the phone at The Log Jam Wednesday morning declined to comment on the suspected outbreak and referred all questions to the health department. 

A Nov. 27 post on The Log Jam’s Facebook page reads, “It seems that there has been an outbreak of a viral gastroenteritis in the community. We have consulted with the health department and they confirmed that this very contagious virus has made some people very ill in our town…Since our water heater went up in flames, and we had to close for repairs, we took full advantage of our down time to disinfect every square inch of our facility.”