Partnerships that Help Early in Foodborne Outbreak Investigations

Consultation with food industry representatives during multistate foodborne outbreaks

Information from industry experts often contributes to rapidly identifying the contaminated food and its source.

Food industry experts are important for many reasons, including their knowledge of food production practices, distribution patterns, consumer purchasing information, and other relevant information, such as product testing and supply chain information.

Consultation with industry experts early in an outbreak investigation can provide important clues to help focus the investigation on the foods or food ingredients that may be making people sick. Insights from industry can increase the speed and ensure greater accuracy of the investigation.

Knowing how food is produced and distributed can help solve foodborne outbreaks

 Image of a shopping cart full of food.

The U.S. food marketplace has millions of different foods and food products. When exposure to contaminated food is suspected as the source of an outbreak, public health investigators must consider the large number of foods that may be making people sick.

Even when the list of foods is narrowed to only those that ill people ate, or remember eating, before they got sick, it still may not point the investigators to the specific food making people sick.

Information about how food is produced and distributed can help investigators narrow the list of suspected contaminated foods and food ingredients.

Why partnering helps

Consultation with the food industry early in the investigation of a foodborne disease outbreak can help reduce the amount of time needed to form an accurate picture of what is causing the outbreak and implement control measures, like a food recall. 

Goal of partnership

This consultation process is aimed at using current industry information to speed up the investigation and make it more effective, all with a goal of keeping people from getting sick.   

Who participates

Participants include:

  • Federal government public health and regulatory officials
  • Food industry subject matter experts
  • Other experts, such as persons from industry associations or academia, who may provide information needed

How the process works

Not every investigation requires the use of this process. If a decision is made to use the process, one or more telephone calls with consultants would be held over the course of an investigation. Typically, the process happens early in an outbreak investigation, when the list of possible contaminated foods has been narrowed to two or three.

How the process was created

This process was created from a series of meetings through the Collaborative Food Safety ForumExternal hosted by the Pew Charitable TrustsExternal and the Robert Wood Johnson FoundationExternal, and involving CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and industry and consumer groups.