An outbreak of food-borne diseases is defined as a situation in which two or more people experience an illness that is similar and which results from eating a common food. Such an outbreak is characterized by a variety of traits, including incubation periods, clinical syndromes, and criteria that are used to confirm the etiology when a food-borne disease outbreak has been pinpointed (Guide to Confirming an Etiology and Food-borne Disease Outbreak, 2006.) Such outbreaks must be reported to the CDC, specifically to the Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch. Information about these events can be submitted electronically, which precipitates an investigation into the matter.
Generally, most outbreaks of food-borne illness are local incidents; officials in the public health department in one city or county health department are the investigators for these outbreaks. The state health department investigates outbreaks that spread across several cities or counties (How Government Responds to Food Illness Outbreaks, 2015.) This department frequently joins forces with several counties or cities, often working with the State Department of Agriculture along with federal food safety agencies. When there are outbreaks involving large numbers of people or severe, unusual illness, states may also request help from the CDC. Usually, the CDC leads the investigations of outbreaks that are widespread, i.e., those which impact several states at the same time.
Often, the CDC acts in collaboration with the FDA along with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Other times, the EPA is also consulted and becomes involved throughout all aspects of an outbreak investigation (How Government Responds to Food Illness Outbreaks, 2015.) When there is an outbreak of food-should of thought of borne illnesses, these agencies act in order to determine the cause of the outbreak, engage in steps to take control of it, and seek ways to prevent outbreaks in the future. In addition, they may act to trace foods to their origins, test foods, evaluate food safety measures in restaurants and food processing facilities, lead farm investigations, and make the announcements for food recalls (How Government Responds to Food Illness Outbreaks, 2015.)
In my opinion, the current method for evaluating food illness outbreaks is effective because there is widespread use of media to publicize when there has been such a problem. Often, on the nightly news, there are stories regarding food recalls and food-borne illnesses, in addition to publicizing these items in newspapers. News about food-borne illnesses is sometimes posted in supermarkets as well.
As a public health nurse, there are several ways that I might participate in helping to control and prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses. I could print up flyers and distribute them in medical settings such as hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. I could also contact media outlets to make sure that these items are covered in a way that publicizes the problems to as large an audience as possible. In addition, I could be sure that I notify each and every patient with whom I come in contact that there has been a food recall or suspicion of a food borne illness. Finally, I could work with local grocers and supermarkets to discuss how to most efficiently notify the public about food-borne illnesses in a timely way.
Two solutions to the challenges presented by food-borne illness outbreaks are: 1) improving the methods of detecting such outbreaks by making sure that the most advanced technologies are utilized to identify the sources of contaminated food. These might include increasing the number of random food tests conducted on all produce, dairy, meat, and other food products that are at risk of causing disease and 2) making sure that problems with foodborne illnesses are posted in schools, libraries, supermarkets, and all other places where people congregate. This would also include posting information in restaurants, which would help such establishments established credibility by making it clear that they are committed to keeping the food supply safe and healthy for its customers.
- Food Safety.gov. (2015, October 29). How Government responds to Food Illness Outbreaks. Retrieved from Food Safety.gov: http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/responds/
- Guide to Confirming an Etiology of Foodborne Disease Outbreak. (2006, July 27). Retrieved from Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.gov: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/investigating-outbreaks/confirming_diagnosis.html