Computer model accurately identifies sources of foodborne illnesses than traditional

Real-time detection of foodborne illness at scale.


A new research led by Google and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that a new computation model can precisely identify potentially unsafe restaurants when compared with existing methods. The model mainly incorporates machine learning algorithms. It then de-identifies and aggregated search and location data from logged-in Google users.

Foodborne ailments are normal, expensive, and arrive a great many Americans in emergency rooms each year. This new procedure, created by Google, can help restaurants and local health divisions discover issues all the more rapidly before they end up bigger medical issues.

In order to address these issues, Google developers along with Harvard scientists have developed a model called FINDER (Foodborne IllNess DEtector in Real-time) that works by first classifying search queries that can demonstrate foodborne illness, for example, stomach cramps or loose bowels.

As mentioned above, the model then de-identifies and aggregates location history data from the smartphones of people who have opted to save it, to determine which restaurants people searching those terms had recently visited.

For testing its efficiency, scientists deployed the model in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Chicago, Illinois. Every morning, each city was provided with a list of restaurants in their jurisdiction that were automatically identified by FINDER. The health department in each city would then dispatch inspectors to conduct inspections at those restaurants to determine if there were health code violations. In addition to FINDER-initiated inspections, the health departments continued with their usual inspection protocols.

The results of the latter inspections were used as a comparison set, with three comparison groups: all inspected restaurants not prompted by FINDER (referred to as BASELINE below), and two subsets thereof—complaint-based inspections (COMPLAINT) and routine inspections (ROUTINE).

The researchers noted that Chicago has one of the most advanced monitoring programs in the nation and already employs social media mining techniques, yet this new model proved more precise in identifying restaurants that had food safety violations.

In Las Vegas, the model was deployed between May and August 2016. Compared with routine inspections performed by the health department, it had a higher precision rate of identifying unsafe restaurants.

When the researchers compared the model with routine inspections by health departments in Las Vegas and Chicago, they found that the overall rate across both cities of unsafe restaurants detected by the model was 52.3%, whereas the overall rate of detection of unsafe restaurants via routine inspections across the two cities was 22.7%.

Strikingly, the investigation demonstrated that in 38% of all cases distinguished by this model, the restaurant possibly causing foodborne illness was not the latest one visited by the individual who was looking keywords identified with side effects.

Authors noted, “This is important because previous research has shown that people tend to blame the last restaurant they visited and therefore may be likely to file a complaint about the wrong restaurant. Yet clinically, foodborne illnesses can take 48 hours or even longer become symptomatic after someone has been exposed.”

“The model would be best leveraged as a supplement to existing methods used by health departments and restaurants, allowing them to better prioritize inspections and perform internal food safety evaluations. More proactive and timely responses to incidents could mean better public health outcomes. Additionally, the model could prove valuable for small and mid-size restaurants that can’t afford safety operations personnel to apply advanced food safety monitoring and data analysis techniques.”

Evgeniy Gabrilovich, senior staff research scientist at Google and a co-author of the study said, “In this study, we have just scratched the surface of what is possible in the realm of machine-learned epidemiology. I like the analogy to the work of Dr. John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology, who in 1854 had to go door to door in Central London, asking people where they took their water from to find the source of a cholera outbreak. Today, we can use online data to make epidemiological observations in near real-time, with the potential for significantly improving public health in a timely and cost-efficient manner.”

The study is published in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

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