Traits of Successful Foodborne Outbreak Investigations

Findings from CDC’s National Environmental Assessment Reporting System

Foodborne outbreak investigations are more often successful when they include data collected through environmental health assessment, epidemiologic investigation, and laboratory testing.

Successful outbreak investigations identify the food item(s), germ(s), and contributing factors of the outbreak. Identifying these data points can help stop the current outbreak and prevent more in the future. Successful investigations more often occur when investigators do these activities:

  • Conduct a thorough environmental assessment of the outbreak environment
  • Use robust epidemiology investigation techniques, such as a cohort study, to identify the food associated with the outbreak and people who got sick
  • Collect and test clinical samples from people who got sick to identify what made people sick
Woman holding a flashlight and a yellow folder with a backpack at her feet.

Environmental health specialists conduct environmental assessments of the outbreak establishment’s kitchen (environment) and other activities to understand factors that contributed to the outbreak.

Answers the question: How and why are people getting sick?

Two people looking at charts.

Epidemiologists conduct activities such as interviewing the people who got sick (hosts) to determine their symptoms and what foods they recently ate.

Answers the question: Who got sick?

Woman looking into a microscope.

Laboratorians test clinical samples, or stool samples, from hosts to determine what is making people sick (agent).

Answers the question: What is making people sick?

How does this study help improve foodborne outbreak investigations?

This study adds to evidence showing the importance of a unified public health response during a foodborne outbreak investigation that includes environmental health professionals, epidemiologists, and laboratorians. The results of this study can help guide state and local health departments when investigating a foodborne illness outbreak.

About the National Environmental Assessment Reporting System (NEARS)

Local, state, tribal, and territorial programs use NEARS to report environmental assessment data. These data come from foodborne illness outbreak investigations in restaurants, banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions.