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FSA Plan to Use Social Media to Spot Outbreaks

November 13, 2015

Following a successful trial, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are planning to increase their use of social media as an aid to tracking potential outbreaks of foodborne illness. By monitoring a variety of hashtags, the FSA discovered that they could identify outbreaks much quicker than traditional methods.

Professor Guy Poppy, who has been working alongside PHD students from Universities in Sheffield York and Leeds, said “We found using Twitter you could detect norovirus outbreaks up to two weeks before Public Health England picked up the epidemiological outbreak. That is very important in terms of managing how you deal with primary care and we are excited that Twitter could be a good way of picking up early indications of issues surrounding food.”

Location details contained in tweets were used to enable researchers link a spike in activity to certain areas. By contrasting the results with details of previous outbreaks, scientists found a correlation between the two. Once obtained, the information can be used to give early warnings of any increase in cases of illness to GP’s, hospitals and NHS online services.

The FSA are now considering whether to extend the research to include looking for pictures of under cooked or poorly prepared food on photo sharing services such as Instagram and other networking sites such as Facebook.