FAQs About Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD Tool)
Questions About the Database
What is the Foodborne Outbreak Online Database Tool (FOOD Tool)?
FOOD Tool is a web-based platform for searching CDC's Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System database. FOOD Tool provides access to national information and is intended to be used for limited descriptive summaries of outbreak data.
Why did CDC develop FOOD Tool?
Many people and organizations— consumer advocacy groups, public health workers, the medical community, the food industry, and the public—have questions about foodborne outbreaks in the United States. The questions can span a range of topics, depending on the questioner's specific interests or responsibilities. Sometimes people want to know how many outbreaks occurred in certain areas or over certain time periods, or what foods were associated with those outbreaks, or how many people got sick or were hospitalized or died. Our intention is to make CDC's foodborne outbreak surveillance data easily accessible.
What kind of data is available through FOOD Tool?
- FOOD Tool lets you search and download data on foodborne disease outbreaks reported to CDC from 1998 through the most recent year of finalized data. Search fields include year, state (outbreaks occurring in more than one state are listed as "multistate"), where the food vehicle was consumed, and etiology (the pathogen, toxin, or chemical that caused the illnesses).
- Users can diplay aggregated totals, graphs, and a U.S. map of outbreaks based on search criteria using "Dashboard" view or create a sortable line list of outbreaks using "Tabular" view. Both views also display "Quick Stats" based on the current search criteria as well as overall totals for all outbreaks in FOOD Tool.
- The downloaded data includes additional fields—total illnesses, hospitalizations, deaths, reported food vehicle, pathogen species and serotype, and etiologic status (whether the etiology was confirmed or suspected). In many outbreak investigations, a specific food vehicle is not identified; for these outbreaks, the food vehicle variable is blank.
Where do foodborne disease outbreak data come from?
- Data in FOOD Tool come from CDC's national Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System database. Most foodborne outbreaks are investigated by the state, local, and territorial health departments where the outbreak occurs. Outbreak information is then reported to CDC by the public health agency that conducted the investigation.
- CDC is only directly involved in outbreak investigations that involve more than one state, or are particularly large, or when the state or local health department requests assistance. The public health agency conducting the outbreak investigation completes a detailed form and submits the form to CDC. More information on how foodborne investigations are conducted can be found on CDC's Investigating Foodborne Outbreaks web page.
Does FOOD Tool give a complete picture of all foodborne disease outbreaks that have occurred in the United States?
- FOOD Tool includes data on all foodborne disease outbreaks reported to CDC since 1998. However, not all foodborne disease outbreaks are reported. Some outbreaks are never identified. Sometimes, an investigation is not conducted or the investigation is incomplete. Some outbreaks that are investigated might not be reported to CDC.
- FOOD Tool contains data only from reports that are finalized, in which the primary mode of transmission is foodborne, and the total number of ill persons is greater than one.
Where can I find CDC summaries or reports using these data?
CDC publishes annual summaries of foodborne disease outbreaks by etiology and food category. These summaries provide important snapshots of the human health impact of foodborne disease outbreaks and the pathogens, foods, settings, and contributing factors (for example, food not kept at the right temperature) involved in these outbreaks.
Why is data on the most recent year not yet available?
It takes time for public health authorities to complete their outbreak investigations and then to report the results to CDC. Once outbreaks are reported, CDC reviews the reports for missing information in key data fields and works with state and local health departments to correct errors. FOOD Tool is updated periodically as new information is reported and finalized.
Why doesn't FOOD Tool include outbreaks from before 1998?
CDC started its electronic reporting system for outbreaks in 1998 and also enhanced surveillance for outbreaks at the same time. FOOD Tool includes outbreaks from the start of electronic reporting.
Questions About How the Database Works
What is the difference between a "confirmed" and "suspected" etiology?
- Only etiologies that meet criteria for confirming an outbreak etiology are considered confirmed (available online at the Guide to Confirming an Etiology in Foodborne Disease Outbreak web page.
- For most etiologies, the organism or toxin must be identified in a clinical specimen, such as stool or blood, from 2 or more patients, or be recovered from the implicated food vehicle. If no clinical specimens or food samples are submitted for testing, the etiology may be "suspected" based upon the clinical syndrome of ill persons, the implicated food, or other information. In addition, an etiology may be suspected because the number of ill persons was small, and only one clinical specimen was submitted to the laboratory.
What do you mean by a "multistate" outbreak and how is it displayed in FOOD Tool?
- A multistate outbreak is defined as one in which exposures to the implicated food occurred in more than one state. (An outbreak affecting residents from more than one state due to exposure in a single state is considered to be a single–state outbreak).
- When a user searches FOOD Tool for outbreaks in a single state, FOOD Tool shows all single state outbreaks and multistate outbreaks in which that state was involved. The number of illnesses listed for that outbreak represents the total number in all states involved in the outbreak. Similarly, the number of hospitalizations and deaths includes those for all states with cases in the multistate outbreak.
Where can I find additional information on multistate outbreak investigations?
- More details about selected multistate outbreak investigations since 2006 can be found on the Foodborne Outbreaks List of Selected Multistate Foodborne Outbreak Investigations web page.
- All reported multistate and single state outbreaks are included in FOOD Tool. Multistate outbreaks represent a small percentage (2-3%) of all outbreaks reported.
How do changes in surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks affect the data displayed in FOOD Tool?
In 2009, the foodborne disease outbreak reporting form was updated, including the addition of new variables and options for variables that were previously collected. For example, for the variable “location of consumption,” three new options were added to the possible choices: Restaurant – Fast Food, Restaurant – Sit-down dining, and Restaurant – other or unknown type. Because the form used before 2009 collected only "Restaurant or deli" as a category, all outbreaks in which location of consumption was "Restaurant or deli" from 1998-2008 display "Restaurant - other or unknown" in Food Tool. Please contact FOOD-Tool@cdc.gov if you have specific questions about how other variables might have changed.
What does the "Transfer Date" information on the downloaded data mean?
The outbreak surveillance database is dynamic. Reporting agencies (state, local, and territorial health departments, and CDC) can modify their outbreak reports at any time, even months or years after an outbreak. Therefore, results from FOOD Tool are subject to change. The date on which the searchable FOOD Tool database was last updated is recorded in the "Transfer Date" field in the downloaded file and in text on the web page.
Can I obtain more information than is included in FOOD Tool for an in-depth analysis?
Yes. Data obtained from FOOD Tool are an extract of data and therefore might not completely represent the findings of all reported outbreak investigations. Contact FOODfirstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions about FOOD Tool data or to discuss submitting an application to request additional data.
What is the proper citation to reference FOOD Tool?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Foodborne Outbreak Online Database. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Available from URL: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks. Accessed MM/DD/YYYY.
Common Questions About Using FOOD Tool
Can the results table be sorted in numeric or alphabetical order?
Yes, click on the column headers of the results table to sort the results by that column.
Can I search for specific foods?
- Yes, you can search by food (including those with more than one ingredient) and ingredients. However, FOOD Tool contains more than 2,000 food names so searching on a single food name may not provide complete information on all outbreaks linked to that food. For example, an outbreak linked to contaminated beef in a hamburger could list beef, hamburger, or both as a food vehicle. So a search for “beef” may not identify all outbreaks linked to beef.
- To categorize foods into more useful groups, CDC has developed a classification scheme that includes 24 categories, such as "beef," "eggs," and seeded vegetables," and provides annual summaries of the outbreaks and illnesses attributed to these categories.
What is the difference between the food vehicle and contaminated ingredient categories?
- A food vehicle is the contaminated food item a person ate before getting sick. It may contain more than one ingredient.
- If a contaminated ingredient is listed in FOOD Tool, it is the specific food or ingredient in the food vehicle that was implicated. For example, in August 2010, Michigan reported an outbreak of 41 illnesses caused by Salmonella serotype Javiana. Potato salad was the food vehicle. Yellow onion was the contaminated ingredient.
- If a contaminated ingredient is not listed in FOOD Tool, either because it was never identified or was not reported, the food vehicle category provides the best information available.