Step 6: Stop the Outbreak

Investigators must act quickly in multistate outbreaks to prevent more illnesses. If contaminated food isn’t removed from store shelves, restaurant kitchens, or homes, more people may get sick. When investigators confirm the source of an outbreak, it usually means they have collected enough information to take actions to stop the outbreak. Sometimes actions can be taken even if a food is only suspected as the cause. Public health officials choose control measures based on the information available to them.

Outbreak control measures

  • Recalling the food
  • Warning people not to eat or sell the food
  • Telling people how to make the food safe to eat (such as cooking to a certain temperature)
  • Temporarily closing restaurants or processing plants
  • Improving practices to prevent contamination during food production or harvesting

Public health officials can sometimes take actions to stop the outbreak based solely on strong epidemiological evidence of the source. They don’t have to wait on a laboratory to identify the outbreak strain in the food. As officials learn more during the investigation, they may change, focus, or expand control measures and advice to the public and businesses.

Challenges of stopping the outbreak

It can be difficult to take actions to prevent illness in a multistate outbreak.

Public health officials try their best to inform the public about the outbreak and the contaminated or recalled food. However, the advice may not reach everyone, and some people may unknowingly eat the contaminated food.

Even when people are aware of the outbreak, it can sometimes be difficult for them to identify the contaminated food. For example, some recalls involve hundreds of products, while some recalls include products of a specific lot code and expiry date. In addition, some recalls of food items, like onions or chicken, can lead to many downstream recalls of products made with those ingredients, such as pizza or deli salads.