A Platform for Crowdsourced Foodborne Illness Surveillance: Description of Users and Reports.


The objective of this study was to present and evaluate, an openly accessible Internet-based crowdsourcing platform that was launched in 2009 for the surveillance of foodborne illness. The goal of this system is to collect data that can be used to augment traditional approaches to foodborne disease surveillance.

More than 49,000 reports of suspected foodborne illness have been submitted on since its inception by individuals from 89 countries and every state in the United States. Approximately 95.51% (42,139/44,119) of complaints implicated restaurants as the source of illness. Furthermore, an estimated 67.55% (3118/4616) of users who responded to a demographic survey were between the ages of 18 and 34, and 60.14% (2776/4616) of the respondents were female. The platform is also currently used by health departments in 90% (45/50) of states in the US to supplement existing programs on foodborne illness reporting.

Crowdsourced disease surveillance through systems such as uses the influence and familiarity of social media to create an infrastructure for easy reporting and surveillance of suspected foodborne illness events. If combined with traditional surveillance approaches, these systems have the potential to lessen the problem of foodborne illness underreporting and aid in early detection and monitoring of foodborne disease outbreaks.

Individuals affected by a foodborne illness can use this system to report their symptoms and the suspected location (eg, restaurant, hotel, hospital) of infection. We present descriptive statistics of users and businesses and highlight three instances where reports of foodborne illness were submitted before the outbreaks were officially confirmed by the local departments of health.

Underreporting of foodborne illness makes foodborne disease burden estimation, timely outbreak detection, and evaluation of policies toward improving food safety challenging.

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