According to a new study conducted by the Brown School at Washington University (St. Louis, MO), notifying the proper government authorities of suspected food poisoning could improve not only the reporting of such illnesses, but thoroughness of the follow up investigation as well.

Jenine Harris, an associate professor at the university teamed up with some colleagues and the St. Louis Department of Health back in October 2015. Together, they implemented the HealthMap Foodborne Dashboard--first developed at Boston Children’s Hospital. Over the course of 7 months, the team identified 173 food poisoning-related tweets and replied with a link where those consumers could properly report their illness to the health department. Of those tweets, 7 percent of them resulted in an official report submission.

“Increasing trust and interaction between government and the public through social media are promising strategies for food safety,” says Harris, lead author of the study, “Using Twitter to Identify and Respond to Food Poisoning: The Food Safety STL Project,” published Feb. 3 in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

“The dashboard technology has potential for improving foodborne illness reporting and can be implemented in other areas to improve response to public health issues,”

According to Harris, although about 23 percent of the U.S. population uses Twitter, extending the dashboard to other social media could also improve reporting among non-Twitter users.

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