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How to Report a Foodborne Illness – Healthcare Professionals

Infection with Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC, including O157 and other serogroups), Listeria, Shigella, Vibrio, and hepatitis A virus, as well as botulism, are reportable almost everywhere in the United States. Infection with other pathogens and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) may also be reportable.

What should I do if I suspect a foodborne illness diagnosis?

Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illness for physicians and other healthcare professionals have been made available through a collaborative effort between several health agencies, including CDC. CDC has also published a Guide to Confirming a Diagnosis in Foodborne Disease.

In most cases, healthcare professionals should report foodborne illnesses to their county or city health department. Please refer to your state health department website to find more information about how to contact your local health department.

Authority for disease reporting rests at the state level and states voluntarily report nationally notifiable conditions to CDC. The list of nationally notifiable diseases is updated annually by the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) with recommendations from CDC. Frequently, diagnoses remain unconfirmed until laboratory tests are completed. However, outbreaks of illness that you suspect might have a common source, such as food, and individual illnesses you think are foodborne should also be reported. By investigating foodborne disease outbreaks, public health officials learn about possible problems in food production, distribution and preparation that may lead to illness, and as a result, food can be made safer.

Diagnostic laboratorians and clinical microbiologists are typically asked to report all cases of certain infections to their local health department and to submit at least the first strain isolated from each patient to the local or state public health laboratory. This process is routine in almost all states for infections with Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria, and E. coli O157:H7, all of which are transmitted commonly by food. When Shiga toxin is detected by use of an enzyme immunoassay (EIA), but a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli has not been isolated, the diagnostic laboratory should submit the EIA-positive broth to the public health laboratory for isolation and identification. Isolates submitted to the public health laboratory are essential for surveillance of foodborne infections in the United States. Public health laboratories routinely serotype Salmonella and Shigella isolates, and routinely subtype all isolates of Listeria and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Many also subtype representative samples of Salmonella and Shigella isolates with PFGE, among other foodborne pathogens. For more information on the national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories conducting molecular surveillance, visit the PulseNet website.

Contact CDC about a foodborne illness or outbreak:

Please call CDC INFO at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

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