Data For Foodborne Outbreaks Investigations

Key points

  • When a foodborne outbreak is detected, public health and regulatory officials work quickly to collect as much information as possible to find out what is making people sick.
  • The three types of data are epidemiologic, traceback, and food and environmental testing.
  • Outbreak investigators take actions to protect the public when there is clear and convincing information showing that people got sick from the same contaminated food.
This image shows an illustration of a plate with vegetables and a fork and spoon.

Types of data

Epidemiologic data

Image shows an illustration of a map of the USA, a plate with vegetables and a fork and spoon, and the outside of a restaurant.
One type of data collected during is epidemiological data.
  • Where and when did people get sick? Has the same germ caused outbreaks before? If it has, what made people sick in those outbreaks?
  • What foods did people eat before they got sick?
  • What restaurants, grocery stores, or events did sick people go to?

Traceback data

Image shows an illustration of a factory and a farm.
Another type of data collected is traceback data.
  • Is there a common point in the distribution chain where the food could have gotten contaminated?
  • Is there anything about the food production facilities, farms, or restaurants that made germs likely to spread?

Food and environmental testing data

Image shows an illustration of lab workers looking at germs under a microscope as well as testing samples in tubes.
Investigators also look at food and environmental testing data.
  • Is the germ causing the outbreak also found in a food item or in the food production environment?
  • Do the germs found in the food or food production environment have the same DNA fingerprints as germs found in sick people?

How the data benefits public health

Outbreak investigators take actions to protect the public when there is clear and convincing information showing that people got sick from the same contaminated food.

Image shows an illustration of a news reporter, a package of lettuce with the word recall over it, and a closed sign.
Outbreak investigators take actions to protect the public.
  • Health officials warn the public
  • Companies recall contaminated products
  • Restaurants or food production facilities close temporarily

Investigators don’t solve every outbreak. Sometimes outbreaks end before enough information is gathered to identify the contaminated food. Outbreak investigators are constantly developing new ways to investigate and solve outbreaks faster.