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Media Statement

CDC′s Role During Foodborne Outbreaks

For Immediate Release: February 6, 2009
Contact: CDC Division of Media Relations, Phone: (404) 639-3286



There are a lot of players that have different roles in the food safety system in this country.  CDC′s role is non-regulatory, which means we don't regulate food or industries.

Most foodborne outbreaks are identified and investigated by local and state health departments. CDC provides consultation on some of those, as well as assistance on request for outbreaks that are particularly large, unusual, or severe. During a multi–state foodborne disease outbreak, CDC serves as lead coordinator between public health partners to detect the outbreak, define its size and extent, and to identify the source.

Specifically, we monitor surveillance for a number of foodborne infections. We also assist states in their investigations. When it′s a large nationwide foodborne outbreak we will lead the investigation to assist in finding the source. We think it′s very important find and identify the problem, the root cause of an outbreak, to prevent future and further illness so that we all can learn from what went wrong.

In recent years, large multi-state foodborne outbreaks have become more common, because better surveillance identifies outbreaks that would previously have been missed and because an increasingly centralized food supply means that a food contaminated in production can be rapidly shipped to many states causing a widespread outbreak.

CDC collaborates with regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and state health departments to provide our expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health.

CDC maintains and monitors several disease surveillance and outbreak detection systems in collaboration with public health partners. PulseNet, a sophisticated outbreak detection system, is a national surveillance network of CDC, state, and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory agency laboratories. PulseNet performs pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (“DNA fingerprinting”) on disease-causing bacteria that may be foodborne to find clusters of cases that might be related.

Once a potential multi-state outbreak has been detected, CDC′s OutbreakNet Team engages to investigate it. By collaborating with public health partners, OutbreakNet leads the epidemiologic investigation of multistate outbreaks. OutbreakNet coordinates communications among states and may lead epidemiologic studies. These are studies to develop a short list of suspect foods or other exposures (“hypothesis generation”), to identify food exposure associated with illness(“case control studies”), and to determine how the food became contaminated. CDC also provides assistance in the field to any state requesting it. CDC′s laboratories maintain PulseNet surveillance to identify new cases, conduct advanced laboratory tests of disease-causing microbes, test suspect foods, and provide technical support to OutbreakNet and public health partners as part of the investigation.

Once a contaminated food source has been identified, public health action to control the outbreak can be taken by regulatory agencies such as FDA and USDA/FSIS. At this stage, CDC continues to investigate potential sources of illness and monitors for additional illnesses to determine when the outbreak is over. CDC also advises the public about what they can do to protect themselves, advises the medical community about how to treat the infections, and works closely with the regulatory agencies and industry to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

Helpful Links

  • CDC′s Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak Update Web page

http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium/update.html

  • CDC′s Salmonella Outbreaks Web page

http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/outbreaks.html

  • Timeline for Reporting Cases of Salmonella infection

http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/reportingtimeline.html

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