USA – The Incident Command System and Foodborne Illness Outbreak Investigations

Food Safety Magazine

The Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network is the coordination focal point for all FDA resources during outbreak investigations

The Basics of Foodborne Illness Outbreak Investigations

When a foodborne illness outbreak is detected, public health and regulatory officials work together to determine what caused the outbreak and then take actions to avert additional illnesses from happening.1,2 During outbreak investigations, public health and regulatory authorities collect three types of data to determine a common food consumed by ill people: epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory.

State and local partners, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), identify outbreaks and the foods that may be causing the illnesses through public health surveillance and epidemiologic evidence. State and local partners work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct traceback investigations and examine the food supply chain to determine the origin of the foods identified by the epidemiologic investigations.3 State and local authorities, in partnership with FDA, may use product and environmental sampling, followed by laboratory analyses, to further confirm the identified food as the outbreak source.

The data analyses and subsequent decision-making require extensive input from all investigation partners. Through a combination of the data gathered during an investigation, a food may be implicated as the source of an outbreak. FDA, CDC, and state and local partners work together to inform the public of outbreaks and provide information on how the public can protect themselves from foodborne illness. Based on investigational data, FDA, for example, may ask a firm to recall the product from the market or, in the case of imported products, may issue an import alert to provide additional information to the field to help stop outbreaks and protect public health.

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