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Can Online Reviews Help Health Inspectors Keep Tabs on Restaurants?

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 22, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Could that nasty online review you wrote about your neighborhood restaurant help the local health inspector do a better job?

Yes, according to researchers who found that such reviews may help monitor a restaurant's cleanliness between health inspections.

Because local health departments have to deal with so many restaurants -- for example, there are 20,000 restaurants in New York City -- there could be long stretches between inspections, the researchers noted.

But their study suggests that online reviews by customers could help keep restaurants on their toes between inspections.

The researchers compared health department hygiene inspections at New York City restaurants from 2010 to 2016 with associated online reviews for the same restaurants.

Online reviews of restaurants can provide city officials with information that can help identify restaurants that are likely at risk for significant cleanliness violations even after receiving high grades in the most recent inspection, the study authors said.

Online reviews can also identify restaurants that are consistently diligent about cleanliness, according to the report published online recently in the journal Information Systems Research.

"Online reviews of restaurants can effectively identify cases of hygiene violations even after the restaurants have been inspected and certified, thereby identifying moral hazard," said study co-author Shawn Mankad, from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Mankad worked with Jorge Mejia of Indiana University and Anand Gopal of the University of Maryland to create a social media-based dictionary that captures counts of hygiene-related words in online reviews of restaurants.

"Based on the dictionary word counts, we find that roughly 30% of all restaurants in New York City deteriorate in terms of their hygiene within 90 days of certification from the health department," Mankad said in a journal news release.

"Augmenting the hygiene inspection regimen with information from online reviews would enhance the effectiveness of these inspections long-term," Mankad added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on food safety when eating out.

SOURCE: Information Systems Research, news release, Jan. 13, 2020

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