Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

What is a foodborne illness outbreak?

A foodborne illness outbreak is defined as the occurrence of two or more cases of the same illness resulting from the ingestion of a common contaminated food. The outbreak may be local in nature; in other words, a group of people may become ill after eating at the same restaurant or purchasing food from the same grocery store. Or the outbreak may be widespread, affecting individuals in many different places and occurring over a period of time. This may result from food becoming contaminated at a specific processing site and shipped nationwide, causing illness in individuals located in numerous states.

How common are foodborne illness outbreaks?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that during the years 1993 to 1997, a total of 2,751 outbreaks of foodborne illness were reported. These outbreaks resulted in the illness of approximately 86,058 people. Of those outbreaks for which the etiology was determined, bacterial pathogens caused the largest percentage (75%), followed by chemical agents (17%), viruses (6%) and parasites (2%).

While the majority of reported cases of foodborne illness are isolated or sporadic events, the following examples demonstrate the impact that an outbreak may have on public health:

1993 – E. coli detected in hamburger meat infecting more than 700 people, resulting in 4 deaths in 4 different states.

1994 – Salmonella detected in ice cream infecting an estimated 224, 000 people.

1997- E. coli detected in alfalfa sprouts infecting 108 people in 2 different states.

1998 – Listeria detected in hotdogs infecting more than 100 people, resulting in 21 deaths in 21 different states.

What causes an outbreak?

For a foodborne illness outbreak to occur, a large volume of food must become contaminated through mishandling during production, processing, transport, preparation, and/or storage. In other words, somewhere along the path from farm to table, a pathogen capable of causing a foodborne illness is introduced into the food product.

Who investigates a possible foodborne illness outbreak?

Local and state health officials are responsible for investigating and reporting suspected foodborne outbreaks. By quickly reporting to your local health department that you or others have become ill as a result of eating the same food, health officials can begin investigating a suspected foodborne outbreak. The information they learn may help prevent additional cases of the reported illness, as well as possible future outbreaks.

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If you or a family member has suffered from foodborne illness, and you have a question about your legal rights, you can request a free case evaluation from our firm by clicking on free case evaluation. You may also contact us toll free at 1-877-934-6274.

The information contained on this page for foodborne illness has been gathered from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other sources in the public domain.

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