Homepage > What Are the Steps in a Food Poisoning Outbreak?
January 20, 2022
Posted by: OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers
If you suffer from food poisoning, you should contact your local health department. You may be one of many suffering from the same thing because of contaminated food served by a restaurant or sold at a grocery store.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year:
The CDC lists these steps public health officials take to investigate and address a potential food poisoning outbreak.
Public health agencies will start an investigation after learning about the problem. Public health surveillance may detect an outbreak in several locations throughout the country, with victims widely spread over several states.
Outbreaks are detected through many methods. One is a program called PulseNet that compares bacterial DNA from patients to find groups of diseases that may be unrecognized outbreaks. Formal and informal reports of illnesses might also be used.
Public health surveillance officials routinely gather illness reports to know how many sickened people to expect in an area within a given time frame.
A cluster is a larger than expected number of people with the same illness in the same time period and area. If those sickened have common illnesses, the group of sicknesses is considered an outbreak.
If those who become ill speak out, finding the cause and ending the food poisoning can be accomplished faster and limit the number of those affected.
Case definitions spell out who is included as part of the outbreak. Outbreaks may consist of illness features, the toxin or pathology, symptoms, time range, and geography.
By finding those sickened by food poisoning, officials understand the outbreak’s timing, size, severity, and sources. After cases are defined, investigators search for related illnesses and analyze them to track when they happened.
Developing a list of possible causes is an ongoing, evolving process. Ideas about causes may change, some may be discarded, and new ones may develop. Possible explanations of an outbreak are continually changed as more information is gathered.
Victims are interviewed, given questionnaires, and visited at home to find more facts to narrow down how and where people got sick. Officials may learn if they ate the same food and where they bought it.
These ideas, or hypotheses, are tested to see if the outbreak source is identified. They use food testing and analytic epidemiologic studies. Epidemiologic studies measure the association between exposure and disease using information collected from individuals.
Public health investigators may get information from those who are ill and healthy to see if those sickened are more likely to have eaten a particular food. Statistical studies are also used to see how strong the connection is between consuming certain food and becoming ill.
Health officials use different data types to link illnesses to foods to solve outbreaks like traceback, epidemiologic, and food and environmental testing. Traceback is an investigation that begins with sickened individuals or a source like a restaurant.
Investigators go back through the food production chain to find a common point connecting people and places to find the contamination source.
After the source is found, actions are taken to end the outbreak. These measures include:
The CDC informs the public through the press and social media.
An outbreak ends when the number of illnesses drops to what’s typically expected. Even when the outbreak is over, public health surveillance continues for a few weeks to ensure cases don’t go back up again.