What Are Environmental Assessments?

Environmental assessments are an important part of outbreak investigations. Food safety programs can use environmental assessments to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness and make recommendations to prevent them in the future.

Photograph of a kitchen manager discussing guidelines with a chef.

An environmental assessment of an outbreak determines how and why germs got into the environment and spread to make people sick. Food safety program officials typically conduct these assessments by

  • Looking for clues in the food safety system to understand and address the outbreak’s environmental causes. These causes are also known as contributing factors and environmental antecedents.
  • Involving people from different disciplines like epidemiology and laboratory to assess all aspects of the food safety system.
  • Broadly defining the environment to include everything external to the host. For example, this definition includes air, food, water, animals, plants, and climate, as well as people and the social and built environments.
Watch for More About Why Environmental Health Services and Environmental Assessments are Important to Food Safety

Foodborne illness is a significant problem in the United States.

Learn How to Conduct an Environmental Assessment
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Environmental Assessment Training Series (EATS)

Practice skills in an interactive virtual environment and learn how to conduct environmental assessments as part of an outbreak investigation team.

For more on environmental assessments, visit

Read our food safety study findings and recommendations to reduce foodborne outbreaks in restaurants, banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions.

Page last reviewed: March 17, 2020