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Role of Public Health Departments

Did You Know?
98% of reported foodborne disease outbreaks involved only one state.1

Collecting Information on Potential Outbreaks: The Important Role of Public Health Departments

CDC has a long history of working with state, local, territorial, and tribal public health departments on foodborne illness investigations.2

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 calls on others as more illnesses are reported across county or state lines.

  • Local department: Most foodborne outbreaks are local events. Public health officials in just one city or county health department investigate these outbreaks.
  • State department: Typically, the 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 ask for help from the CDC for outbreaks that involve large numbers of people or severe or unusual illness. CDC usually leads investigations of widespread outbreaks—those that affect many states at once. States communicate regularly with one another and with CDC about outbreaks and ongoing investigations.3 Learn more about CDC’s role in outbreak response.