Frequently Asked Questions

About the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS)

FDOSS is CDC’s program for collecting and reporting data about foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. It is a part of the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), which also includes data on illnesses resulting from contact with animals, environmental contamination, spread by person-to-person, waterborne transmission, and other enteric illness outbreaks.

FDOSS collects information about foodborne disease outbreaks, such as

  • Date and location of the outbreak
  • Number of people who became ill and their symptoms
  • Food or drink implicated
  • Setting where the food or drink was prepared and eaten
  • Pathogen (germ, toxin, or chemical) that caused the outbreak

State, local, and territorial public health departments are responsible for identifying and investigating foodborne outbreaks and reporting them to CDC. A team within CDC investigates multistate outbreaks and also reports these to FDOSS.

CDC estimates that each year in the United States, about 9.4 million people get ill from 31 known foodborne germs. These illnesses lead to about 56,000 hospitalizations and 1,350 deaths. While most foodborne illnesses are not part of a recognized outbreak, outbreaks provide important information on the agents (germs, toxins, and chemicals) that cause illness, the foods responsible, and the settings that lead to transmission.

 why outbreak information is collected
What outbreak information can provide Why this information is important
Foods associated with outbreaks
  • Identifies foods most commonly reported in outbreaks, and changes in how frequently certain foods are implicated
  • Provides information on the causes of food contamination
  • Identifies germ-food pairs most often linked to outbreaks
  • Offers insight into how well prevention measures are working, which can lead to new policies and practices
Germs associated with outbreaks
  • Identifies germs reported in outbreaks, and changes in how frequently certain germs are implicated
  • Provides information on how specific germs affect people and the significance of these germs to the public’s health
  • Identifies germ-food pairs most often linked to outbreaks
  • Offers insight into how well prevention measures to reduce those germs are working, which can lead to new best practices and industry standards
Where germs contaminate food
  • Identifies points in the food production chain (for example, at a farm or production plant) and post-production (for example, during transportation, or at a grocery store, restaurant, or home) where germs contaminate food
  • Offers insight into how well prevention measures to reduce those germs are working, which can lead to new best practices and industry standards

 

Places outbreaks happen, including where food is made and eaten
  • Tells us where outbreaks are more likely to occur, and if those places are changing over time
  • Points out food preparation and handling practices that can lead to outbreaks
  • Offers insight into how well prevention measures are working, which can lead to new best practices and industry standards

 

More Information:

CDC uses this information to better understand the germs, foods, settings, and contributing factors (for example, food not kept at the right temperature) involved in outbreaks. CDC also uses the information to identify emerging foodborne disease threats and to shape and assess outbreak prevention measures.

National Outbreak Reporting System Dashboard

You can get information about foodborne disease outbreaks reported to CDC by

Background Information

A foodborne illness occurs when someone gets sick after consuming a contaminated food or drink. It is also called foodborne disease, foodborne infection, or food poisoning.

More than 250 agents are known to cause foodborne illness. These agents include germs (such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites) and chemicals (such as ciguatoxin).

The most common symptoms of foodborne illness include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and differ depending on the agent that caused the illness. Some illnesses lead to long-term health problems or death.

More information:

A foodborne disease outbreak occurs when two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink. Nearly all of the more than 250 agents known to cause foodborne illness can cause an outbreak.

More information:

CDC has a long history of working with state, local, and territorial public health departments on foodborne illness investigations.
Which public health department participates in an investigation depends on the size and scope of the outbreak. Sometimes one department starts an investigation and then more illnesses are found across county or state lines.

  • Local health departments: Most foodborne outbreaks are local events. Public health officials in just one city or county health department investigate these outbreaks.
  • State health departments: Typically, a state health department investigates outbreaks that spread across several cities or counties. This department often works with the state department of agriculture and with federal food safety agencies.
  • CDC: A state may invite CDC to assist in the investigation of outbreaks that involve large numbers of people or severe or unusual illness. CDC also usually leads investigations when the food exposures occur in more than one state. States communicate regularly with one another and with CDC about outbreaks and ongoing investigations. Learn more about CDC’s role in outbreak response. >

Some Foodborne Germs Commonly Linked to Outbreaks

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C. perfringens

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Campylobacter

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E. coli

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Norovirus

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Salmonella