Was it something you ate? Google data can help figure out where you got food poisoning


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After emerging from a bout of food poisoning, the first thing most people want (apart from plain, old saltine crackers and a breath mint) is to find the perpetrator of the foodborne crime. And although consumers won’t necessarily be able to play the blame game quite yet, a recent Google development designed specifically to find the guilty party provides promising hope.

The Foodborne Illness Detector in Real time (or FINDER, for short) was tested out in Chicago and Las Vegas, and results—published in the NPJ Digital Medicineshow it’s 3.1 times more likely to locate unsafe restaurants than other health inspection methods, Quartz reports.

By analyzing a combination of users’ search history and location services, FINDER tracks down restaurants that may be serving food poisoning as the unwanted special of the day, and then sends health department officials to take a closer look. For example, if someone searched “diarrhea,” then FINDER would comb their location services data over the past day or so to see where they might have caught the illness.

52 percent of restaurants flagged by FINDER were actually deemed unsafe upon inspection—and only 25 percent of restaurants are found unsafe via routine inspections.

While yes, the tool does impose a Big Brother–esque vibe, the results of the study reveal that the privacy sacrifice might be worth it (for the sake of never upchucking your sushi roll again). Why? Well, 52 percent of the restaurants flagged by FINDER were actually deemed unsafe upon inspection—and only 25 percent of restaurants are found unsafe via routine inspections.

Hopefully public health departments will start using FINDER nationwide. Or better yet, can we democratize this very pertinent info? I personally wouldn’t mind this handy-dandy model living in my bookmarks bar. Are you listening, Google?

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