Problem/Condition: Known foodborne disease agents are estimated to cause approximately 9.4 million illnesses each year in the United States. Although only a small subset of illnesses are associated with recognized outbreaks, data from outbreak investigations provide insight into the foods and pathogens that cause illnesses and the settings and conditions in which they occur.
Reporting Period: 2009–2015
Description of System: The Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS) collects data on foodborne disease outbreaks, which are defined as the occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food. Since the early 1960s, foodborne outbreaks have been reported voluntarily to CDC by state, local, and territorial health departments using a standard form. Beginning in 2009, FDOSS reporting was made through the National Outbreak Reporting System, a web-based platform launched that year.
Results: During 2009–2015, FDOSS received reports of 5,760 outbreaks that resulted in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations, and 145 deaths. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and CDC reported outbreaks. Among 2,953 outbreaks with a single confirmed etiology, norovirus was the most common cause of outbreaks (1,130 outbreaks [38%]) and outbreak-associated illnesses (27,623 illnesses [41%]), followed by Salmonella with 896 outbreaks (30%) and 23,662 illnesses (35%). Outbreaks caused by Listeria, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) were responsible for 82% of all hospitalizations and 82% of deaths reported. Among 1,281 outbreaks in which the food reported could be classified into a single food category, fish were the most commonly implicated category (222 outbreaks [17%]), followed by dairy (136 [11%]) and chicken (123 [10%]). The food categories responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses were chicken (3,114 illnesses [12%]), pork (2,670 [10%]), and seeded vegetables (2,572 [10%]). Multistate outbreaks comprised only 3% of all outbreaks reported but accounted for 11% of illnesses, 34% of hospitalizations, and 54% of deaths.
Interpretation: Foodborne disease outbreaks provide information about the pathogens and foods responsible for illness. Norovirus remains the leading cause of foodborne disease outbreaks, highlighting the continued need for food safety improvements targeting worker health and hygiene in food service settings. Outbreaks caused by Listeria, Salmonella, and STEC are important targets for public health intervention efforts, and improving the safety of chicken, pork, and seeded vegetables should be a priority.
Public Health Action: The causes of foodborne illness should continue to be tracked and analyzed to inform disease prevention policies and initiatives. Strengthening the capacity of state and local health departments to investigate and report outbreaks will assist with these efforts through identification of the foods, etiologies, and settings linked to these outbreaks.