Key Partners in Foodborne Outbreak Investigations

At a glance

The first goal of investigating outbreaks is to stop the outbreak and prevent more people from getting sick. CDC works closely with many partners to identify the contaminated food and take actions to stop the outbreak.

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Image shows an illustration of CDC and its three partners: state and local partners, federal partners, and food industry partners.
Partners work together to take actions to stop foodborne outbreaks.

CDC's role

CDC has three main roles during multistate foodborne outbreaks:

  1. Quickly detect outbreaks by monitoring nationwide surveillance systems, including PulseNet
  2. Gather and analyze different types of data to identify what food is making people sick
  3. Inform the public about the outbreak and contaminated food to prevent additional illnesses

State and local partners

State and local public health and agriculture partners work closely with CDC during multistate outbreak investigations. They are essential in collecting and analyzing local data, including:

  • Interviewing people about the foods they ate before getting sick
  • Collecting food from sick people's homes or stores for testing
  • Conducting traceback to identify where the contaminated food came from

Did you know? Most foodborne outbreaks occur within one state or in one small part of a state. Local or state health departments identify and investigate these outbreaks. When requested, CDC can provide consultation or hands-on assistance on localized outbreaks that are particularly large, unusual, or severe.

Federal partners

CDC's main federal partners in foodborne outbreaks are regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS).

FDA and USDA-FSIS may take several actions during a multistate foodborne outbreak:

  • Conduct traceback investigation to identify the source and distribution of contaminated food
  • Inspect food processing facilities and farms and review their food safety protocols
  • Collect samples from foods, food facilities, and farms for testing
  • Request that companies recall contaminated food

Food industry partners

Investigators sometimes consult with food industry experts and trade associations during outbreaks, particularly when investigators are still gathering information to identify the contaminated food. Food industry partners can provide important information, including food production practices, distribution patterns, and consumer purchasing information. This information can help outbreak investigators identify the contaminated food more quickly.