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Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks

Captures outbreak data from local and state health departments on agents, foods, and settings responsible for foodborne illness

CDC maintains a program for collection and periodic reporting of data on the occurrence and causes of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System provides valuable insights into the agents and foods that cause illness and the settings where contamination occurs.1

The Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System collects data on foodborne disease outbreaks, defined as the occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food. Outbreaks provide important information on how germs spread, which foods cause illness, and, how to prevent infection.2

Did You Know?

98% of reported foodborne disease outbreaks involved only one state.


How Does Surveillance and Reporting for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks Work?

State, local and territorial public health departments have the primary responsibility for identifying and investigating outbreaks and voluntarily reporting outbreaks to CDC through a web-based program, the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS). For foodborne outbreaks, NORS interfaces with the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System to collect information, such as:

What does surveillance data identify?

What does surveillance data identify?

  • Common and rare foods associated with outbreaks
  • New and emerging pathogens as well as ongoing problems
  • Food preparation and consumption setting where outbreaks occur
  • Points of contamination needing prevention and control measures
  • Trends in foodborne disease outbreaks

Why outbreak surveillance is important

  • Date and location of the foodborne outbreak
  • Number of people who became ill and their symptoms
  • Food implicated in the outbreak
  • Setting where the food was prepared and eaten
  • Pathogen that caused the outbreak3

How is the Information Searched and Used?

At least 90% of people who get Listeria food poisoning are in highly vulnerable groups. Learn more.

The surveillance team analyzes the outbreak data then makes it available using an online tool, the Food Outbreak Online Database (FOOD).

The FOOD tool provides access to national information and includes limited descriptive summaries of outbreak data. It is available to anyone who may have questions about foodborne outbreaks in the United States. These might include consumer advocacy groups, public health workers, medical community, food industry, media, and the public.4

The surveillance team also reports annual data summaries and analyses to the public that provide important snapshots of the human health impact of foodborne disease outbreaks.4 Data from this system has been used for hundreds of publications over the years and is one of the measures to assess  Healthy People 2020 goals for Food Safety.5 It has also been used for CDC’s latest Vital Signs publication on Listeria.