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Environmental Assessment as Part of an Outbreak Investigation

An environmental assessment as a part of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation is different from other environmental activities at food establishments.

A foodborne illness outbreak environmental assessment reconstructs past events. It is a forensic process that looks at clues and data to develop a hypothesis about the cause of the outbreak and to implement appropriate controls to prevent future outbreaks.

A foodborne illness outbreak environmental assessment

  • Is triggered by an outbreak of foodborne illness;
  • Describes the influences of people, equipment, processes, food, and economics on variables that may have contributed to the outbreak; and
  • Identifies environmental causes of the outbreak.

This type of environmental assessment is an in-depth, multidisciplinary, systems-based approach to determine how the environment contributed to the introduction and/or transmission of the agent that caused illness. The environment can include everything external to the host, including air, food, water, animals, plants, climate, etc., as well as people and social and built environments.

The objectives of an environmental assessment as part of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation are to

  • Identify underlying environmental causes.
  • Generate recommendations for informed interventions.

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