You Can Help CDC Solve Foodborne Outbreaks

At a glance

During a foodborne outbreak investigation, public health officials collect as much information as possible to find out what is making people sick. Below are some ways you can help CDC solve foodborne outbreaks.

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If you think you have food poisoning

Image shows an illustration with four boxes. The first box shows a person talking to a doctor. The second shows a list of foods written on a piece of paper. The third shows someone making a phone call. And the fourth image shows the outside of a health department building.
You can help CDC solve foodborne outbreaks by following these steps.

1. Talk to your healthcare provider

Ask your healthcare provider if you should be tested for a foodborne disease. They can take a sample of your poop or blood and test it. Many healthcare providers are now using rapid tests that give a result quickly, often while you wait in the office.

Some test results (without information that identifies you) are sent to PulseNet. PulseNet is a database at CDC that looks for similar foodborne germs to identify outbreaks. Learn more about how outbreak investigators use test results to link an illness to an outbreak.

2. Write down what you ate and what you did

Did you know that the food that made you sick is usually not the last food you ate? It often takes 2 to 3 days to start feeling sick after eating a contaminated food. Sometimes, it takes even longer.

  • Write down everything you remember eating in the week before you got sick.
  • Write down names of restaurants you ate at and events or parties you attended.
  • Write down any contact you had with pets or other animals. Animals can carry and spread the same germs that cause foodborne outbreaks, like Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Gather grocery or restaurant receipts you kept.

3. Report your illness to your health department

Promptly reporting your illness helps your local or state health department identify foodborne outbreaks. Health departments track reports of illnesses and look for groups of people who have similar illnesses and ate the same foods.

Sometimes, local or state health officials may interview you over the phone to find out what you ate and did in the week before you got sick. They may also ask for copies of receipts, your shopper card number, or leftover food for testing.

Take the time to participate in this interview—you can help us solve the outbreak!

Even when you're not sick

Image shows an illustration showing a receipt, shopper cards, a packaged tray of ground meat next to a bag of salad, and food being prepared and washed in a kitchen.
You can still help CDC solve foodborne outbreaks even when you are not sick by following these steps.

1. Enroll in shopper card programs and keep food receipts

Many groceries stores have shopper card or store loyalty programs. Enroll in these programs to track your grocery purchases. Shopper records can provide important information on foods, brands, and other details that can help outbreak investigators. Outbreak investigators only use your shopper records with your permission.

When you buy food from restaurants or stores without shopper records, it is a good idea to keep the receipts for at least a week. This can help you remember what you ate if you get sick.

2. Keep food labels

The information on original food packaging or labels can help investigators trace where food came from. It can also help you identify any recalled food that may be in your home.

Store or freeze food with the original packaging or label. If you store food in your own containers or divide food into smaller portions, keep the original label or write information from the food label. Important information may include:

  • Food and brand name
  • Purchase date and location
  • "Best by" dates or other dates
  • Product and lot codes
  • For meat or poultry, the USDA plant number found inside the USDA mark of inspection

3. Stay up to date on food recalls and outbreaks

You can follow CDC and your local or state health department on social media for important updates about food recalls and outbreaks.

The four steps to food safety—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—can also help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.