Texting to reduce foodborne illnesses in Evanston, Ill.

Two texts. That’s all it takes to avoid potential stomach pains in Evanston, Ill.

SMS_Health_ScoresOr at least, that was the goal behind an endeavor that pairs the city’s restaurant inspection scores on Yelp with text message alerts for diners. When the SMS program launched early in 2015 it was a quiet release. In fact, Erika Storlie, Evanston’s deputy manager, described the undertaking as more of a four-month side project than anything else.

The city had just completed a project with Yelp to feed restaurant inspection scores to the review site and wanted to investigate joining the scores with its 311 non-emergency texting app. The problem was, Evanston’s 311 app required a person on the other end to retrieve or record data and submit replies.

“So then, that began the exploration of, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be cool if we could text the restaurant name to 311 and automatically get the inspection score back?’” Storlie said. “It kind of came from the fact we were using these two different types of technologies and we wanted to marry them.”

Whether it’s Evanston’s Kafein coffee house on Chicago Avenue or the Peckish Pig on Howard Street, finding scores is simple. Diners just text “food” to the city’s 311 number, and after a prompt, enter a restaurant name and they’re returned the recent score and inspection date.

It’s simple and much easier than Yelp’s mobile app, which compels users to tap and swipe their way to a restaurant’s “More Info” tab and deep dive through a list of miscellaneous information.

Since Yelp and the texting services launched, Evanston officials said there’s an interest in tracking how public scoring influences health inspections.


Text me, don’t e-mail me, to influence food safety behavior

I hate texting.

I learned how to do it so I could chat with my kids, but I much prefer e-mail.

imagesChapman says I’m old, and the whole e-mail thing just passed by these kids.

The hardest lesson to teach any student working in my lab over the past 15 years was, check your e-mail.

When I went to Disney with food safety Frank in 2008, I was most impressed that he had all his chefs in the 20-something resorts checking their Blackberries every couple of minutes.

That’s the way I ran my lab.

But, I have kids, and they slowly drag the old man along to the new technology, and texting.

A Curtin University-led study (that’s in Australia) shows young adults are more apt to develop automatic, regular and long-lasting food-safety behaviors if a habit is formed.

However, this formation doesn’t have to be linked to education or motivation, but simply created with regular cues that prompt action.

Curtin University Associate Professor Barbara Mullan says the work flips the usual habit paradigm.

“There is a lot of research into how we break bad habits, particularly in clinical psychology, in areas such as obsessive-compulsion disorder,” Mullan says.

“But there’s very little about how humans establish good habits.

“Previous studies that do have largely involved people with a motivation to change, such as losing weight or exercising more, but we felt there was a lot of noise in that data.

“We wanted to strip the question of back to the purest level of ‘how long do people have to repeat an action for it to become automatic?'”

To answer that question, they drew on recent research which found microwaving a dishcloth—a major source of kitchen cross-contamination—for one minute was an effective method of sterilisation.

They enlisted 45 undergraduate students and divided them into three groups, two which received a reminder poster and text-message prompts every three and five days respectively to microwave their dishcloth, and a control group who received no reminders.

The test period lasted for three weeks, with a follow-up done three weeks after completion.

This follow-up revealed that a significant number of those given cues to act were still performing the habit, while those in the control group were not.

“The results are particularly important as they demonstrate that a relatively simple intervention was sufficient to change and maintain behavior,” A/Prof Mullan says.

“This suggests focusing on habit formation is a better strategy than attempting to change or improve behaviors through education or instruction, which have been shown to be largely ineffective.

“And they remove the need for motivation. While a person’s intentions may be good, intention does not always lead to behavior change.”

Mullan says they chose students as participants due to young adults being a population at a higher risk of experiencing foodborne illness, which affects a quarter of Australians each year.

The researchers are now looking at cue sensitivity and if sequences of habits can be built, including checking expiry dates and fridge temperatures.

Text messages reduce the spread of norovirus at Hope College

A text message proved effective in alerting thousands of students about last month’s norovirus outbreak at Hope College.

Hope College officials informed the Health Department they had a database that contained all of the students email and text messaging addresses. 3600 students were notified at once.

Students were asked via text message to reply to an email detailing their symptoms and how long they were ill.

The Health Department says in the end about 540 students responded. Officials say the information was crucial for determining a plan of action and slowing the spread of the virus.

What Brits do on the toilet

I remember when Chapman got a blackberry, the first in our little group to get one. He sent me an e-mail, and then another shortly thereafter:

“I wrote and sent that e-mail while sitting on the toilet.”

Today, it’s almost impossible to enter a public restroom without wondering who’s talking – it’s someone sitting on the toilet with verbal diarrhea into their cell phone.

So in honor of World Toilet Day, a survey of more than 2,000 people commissioned by charity Tearfund found that reading, chatting and texting are among the favourite activities of Britons on the toilet.

The study suggests more than 14 million people in the UK read newspapers, books and magazines on the loo.

The poll points to eight million people talking – either on the phone or to family – and one in five send texts.

The study also suggested people mostly thought about food while on the toilet, and that men were more likely to look around for a distraction than women.

See and Tell restaurant inspection: Waiter, I see a fly and in soup and I’m telling (and texting)

Croydon Today in the U.K. reports,

The See and Tell service, launched this month, enables people to text the Croydon Council’s food safety team with concerns about food safety or labelling issues – in restaurants, shops or takeaways.

There are 2,600 food businesses in Croydon, from takeaways to supermarkets.

Brian Griffiths, manager of the council’s food safety team, said,

“There are various levels of action we can take, but in the worst case scenario we can go in and close a place down on the spot. We rely heavily on customers tipping us off and this new text service will make it all the easier. If you find a hair in your soup you can literally text us from the restaurant table and we’ll come and investigating.

“Sometimes I’ve opened bins at the back of restaurants and seen the meat moving because there were so many maggots on it. And at the moment we’re dealing with a mice infestation at a high street store which sells food. It is really important we get to hear from residents about these sorts of things so we can go in and take the appropriate action.”

The move to enlist citizen diners seems like another expansion of social networking – the power’s with the people.

The city of Chicago has started encouraging Chicagoans who believe that a restaurant or any other licensed food establishment is operating in an unsafe manner to call 311 and report it.

Back in Feb. 2005, customers with cameras in South Korea were reported photographing any violation of food safety standards and reporting it to authorities.

The sikparazzi — a combination of the word sik, meaning food, and paparazzi — are, however, good news for the authorities.

The Korean Food and Drug Administration said 10,567 food safety violations were reported in the first nine months of 2004, and 74.2 million won ($118,624) paid in rewards, reported the Joong Ang Daily.

So lucrative is it to be a sikparazzi in South Korea that at least one private institute runs courses to train people for the job.

There have also been allegations that the sikparazzi sometimes contaminate the food themselves and then demand compensation, threatening to report it.

Mr Griffiths in Croydon also advised people to go to their GP if they think they have got food poisoning and give a poo sample, stating,

“The proof is in the poop and if people give a sample it can be used as evidence, which helps us wrap things up much easier if we get an allegation of food poisoning.”

Follow the poop. Everything comes down to poo.