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Making Food Safer to Eat

Food safety installation

Each year, about 1 in 6 people in the U.S. gets sick from eating contaminated food. The 1,000 or more reported outbreaks that happen each year reveal familiar culprits – Salmonella and other common germs. In recent years, large, multistate foodborne outbreaks have become more common because an extensive network of foodborne illness surveillance systems identifies outbreaks and tracks trends that would previously have been missed. Also, an increasingly centralized food supply means that food contaminated during production can be rapidly shipped to many states, causing widespread outbreaks.

CDC is the lead coordinator among public health partners in states to detect multistate outbreaks, to define the size and extent, to identify the source, and to point the way to prevention once a contaminated food source has been identified. Public health action to control the outbreak then can be taken by partners responsible for food safety from the farm to our tables. Preventing foodborne disease is possible with additional effort and support for evidence-based, cost effective strategies that we can put in place now. These strategies can have significant impact on our nation’s health.

outbreak investigation steps

Investigating Food-Borne Outbreaks

On display are the steps typically used to investigate a food-borne outbreak, shown using a multi-state outbreak of Listeria in 2011. From detecting the outbreak to gathering and analyzing the data, the outbreak investigation highlights the importance of public health disciplines working together to solve an outbreak.

pulsenet installation



PulseNet is a national laboratory network used to detect foodborne outbreaks. The program initially used laboratory tests such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) but has transitioned to whole genome sequencing. Scientists at state or local public health departments process samples from local food-borne illness cases and enter the results into the electronic PulseNet database. Database managers at CDC can detect related cases and can notify food-borne epidemiologists to begin an investigation.

Enrichment Modules
Page last reviewed: April 29, 2021