Step 6: Control an Outbreak

Illustration representing ways to control an outbreak. This one has a spray bottle spraying disinfectant.

Once the food source of an outbreak is determined, control measures must be taken. If contaminated food stays on store shelves, in restaurant kitchens, or in home pantries, more people may get sick. There are several different outbreak control measures that can be taken. Public health officials choose measures based on the information available to them. Measures can change as the investigation goes on.

What are outbreak control measures?

  • Cleaning and disinfecting food facilities
  • Temporarily closing a restaurant or processing plant
  • Recalling food items
  • Telling the public how to make the food safe (such as cooking to a certain temperature) or to avoid it completely
  • Telling consumers to throw away the suspect food from their pantry or refrigerator

How are control measures chosen?

Public health officials may decide on control measures based on strong epidemiological evidence of the disease’s origin, spread, and development. They do not need to wait for proof of contamination from the laboratory. This practice can result in earlier action to protect the public’s health. As officials learn more during the investigation, they may change, focus, or expand control measures and advice to the public.

How are outbreaks communicated?

One of the most important actions public health officials can take to prevent illness is warning consumers quickly about a contaminated food. Public health officials take action to communicate to the public when there is clear and convincing information linking illness to a contaminated food. CDC is most likely to warn consumers when the investigation identifies a specific food linked to illness, and there is a continuing risk to public health because the food is still in stores or homes. In this scenario, there are specific, clear, and actionable steps for consumers to take to protect themselves from contaminated food.