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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:

  • 48 million Americans are sickened by food poisoning
  • 128,000 are hospitalized for treatment
  • 3,000 are killed by food poisoning

The CDC lists these steps public health officials take to investigate and address a potential food poisoning outbreak.

1. Detection

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.

Methods for Detecting Outbreaks

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.

2. Define and Find Cases

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.

3. Consider All Potential Sources

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.

4. Test Hypotheses

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.

5. Finding the Point of Contamination and the Food Source

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.

6. Outbreak Control

After the source is found, actions are taken to end the outbreak. These measures include:

  • Disinfecting and cleaning food facilities
  • Closing a processing plant or restaurant
  • Recalling potentially contaminated food
  • Telling the public steps that may make the food safe (like cooking it to a specific temperature)
  • Telling the public to discard the food if they have it or not buy it

The CDC informs the public through the press and social media.

7. The End of an Outbreak

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.

Get Help from A Food Poisoning Injury Lawyer

If you’re severely sickened by food poisoning, hold the responsible parties accountable by contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer at OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers.

Schedule your no-cost, risk-free consultation when you call our office at (888) 828-7087. You can also use our contact form, and we will reach out to you to discuss how we can help.

Notable Recoveries

$10 million

Seven infants were sickened after consuming a contaminated food product marketed to infants

$6.5 million

Verdict on behalf of a little boy who contracted a severe Salmonella infection from chicken

$7.55 million

Verdict on behalf of a little girl who contracted E. coli at a petting zoo

$2.25 million

E. coli infections contracted from a major fast food chain

$45 million

An over-the-counter medication caused severe kidney damage to multiple users

$3.4 million

A pregnant woman contracted a Listeria infection from contaminated fruit and passed the infection to her child

$3 million

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