How to Report a Foodborne Illness - Health Departments

Infection with Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC, including O157 and other serogroups), Listeria, Shigella, Vibrio, and hepatitis A virus, as well as botulism, are reportable almost everywhere in the United States. Infection with other pathogens and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) may also be reportable.

Authority for disease reporting rests at the state level, and states voluntarily report nationally notifiable conditions to CDC. The list of nationally notifiable diseases is updated annually by the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) with recommendations from CDC. Frequently, diagnoses remain unconfirmed until laboratory tests are completed. Outbreaks of suspected foodborne illness and infections commonly transmitted through food should be reported.

Image of health department workers.

Public health laboratories are critical to surveillance of foodborne infections in the United States. Public health laboratories routinely serotype Salmonella and Shigella isolates and routinely subtype isolates of Listeria, STEC, and Salmonella by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Many also use PFGE to subtype representative samples of Shigella, among other foodborne pathogens, and enter the patterns into the PulseNet database. For more information on the national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories conducting molecular surveillance, visit the PulseNet website.

How Are Foodborne Illnesses Reported?

Local Health Departments

Suspected cases of foodborne illness should be reported to the state health departmentExternal as required by each state.

State Health Departments

Notifiable conditions should be reported to CDC via the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS).Additionally, laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella, STEC, and Shigella infections should be reported to the Laboratory-based Enteric Disease Surveillance (LEDS) system by the state public health laboratory.

Standardized forms should be used to report additional information about certain health conditions to CDC, such as typhoid and paratyphoid fever, listeriosis, cholera, and other Vibrio illnesses, directly to the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch at CDC. These forms are available through CDC’s National Case Surveillance for Enteric Diseases page.

Reporting Cases of Botulism

Any suspected case of botulism is considered a public health emergency due to the severity of the illness and the possibility that a contaminated food may cause others to become seriously ill. Suspected botulism cases should be reported immediately to the state health departmentExternal. CDC staff is available 24 hours a day to provide consultation on diagnosis, treatment, and investigation, as well as antitoxin release. Please call 770-488-7100.

How Are Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Reported?

Local Health Departments

Most states require that local health departments report outbreaks of suspected foodborne and waterborne illness to their state health departmentExternal.

State Health Departments

State health departments are requested to report all waterborne disease outbreaks and enteric disease outbreaks associated with food, contact with environmental sources, infected persons or animals, or unknown modes of transmission through the state administrator of the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS).

By investigating foodborne disease outbreaks, public health officials learn about problems in food production, distribution, and preparation that may lead to illness, and they use this information to help control the ongoing outbreak and prevent future outbreaks.

Contact CDC About a Foodborne Illness or Outbreak

Please call CDC INFO at 1-800-232-4636.