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Report Foodborne Outbreaks

How should a suspected foodborne disease outbreak be reported?  How YOU can help.

If you believe that more than one person has become ill with gastrointestinal symptoms (such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps) from a common food exposure, please report this occurrence to your local health department (click here for a link to find your local health department).  

Common Organisms Associated with Foodborne Illness

In order to investigate a suspected foodborne disease outbreak, staff from the local health district will need to collect information from you by asking several questions.

Investigate Foodborne Outbreaks

How do Ohio local health departments investigate a suspected foodborne disease outbreak?

There are several steps involved once a suspected outbreak is reported to the local health department.  First, the health department attempts to collect initial information to better describe the details (who/what/when/where) of the occurrence. Often this involves interviewing the individuals involved with the suspected outbreak. At the same time, laboratory specimens may be collected by the health department from people that are sick. Testing of human specimens and food may be conducted at the Ohio Department of Health, State Public Health Laboratory. Details collected during interviews of the ill help outbreak investigators determine which pathogens to test for at the state laboratory. If a restaurant or caterer was involved in the event, environmental health personnel from the Ohio local health department will be involved in the inspection. Other types of retail establishments would be inspected by the Ohio Department of Agriculture in order to determine if any factors can be identified that may have led to the outbreak. During both types of inspections, environmental health specialists record all violations and discuss them with the person in charge, in an attempt to educate them to prevent any repeat occurrences. Certain critical violations are fixed immediately as they are found during the inspection.

What to do if you believe you are experiencing a foodborne illness.

If you believe that more than one person has become ill with gastrointestinal symptoms (such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps) from a common food exposure, please report this occurrence to your local health department (click here for a link to find your local health department).  

What will the local health department need to know?

In order to investigate a suspected foodborne disease outbreak, staff from the local health district will need to collect information from you by asking several questions. By providing this key information, you will help to start the investigation:

  • Where were you before you became ill?  (Eating a restaurant, party at friend’s house, etc.)
  • Please provide the date, time, and exact location of above situation.
  • What foods were there to eat?
  • How many people attended the event?
  • Describe the symptoms of the illness, including when (date and time) you first felt sick.
  • How long (hours or days) were you sick?
  • Did you see a doctor (through your regular primary care physician, emergency room, or urgent care)?  If yes, did the doctor collect any stool? 
  • If stool was collected, were there any results from testing?  What were they (positive or negative and for what germ)?
  • Your name, address, and phone number in case we need additional information.

Do you know of other people that attended the event and became sick?

Could you provide contact information for the situation you described above (your friend’s information, the restaurant, etc.)?

Additional Information:

You may also be asked to give the health department’s contact information to others that became ill following this event.

This information is used to estimate the size of the outbreak.

How do Ohio local health departments investigate a suspected foodborne disease outbreak?

There are several steps involved once a suspected outbreak is reported to the local health department.  First, the health department attempts to collect initial information to better describe the details (who/what/when/where) of the occurrence. Often this involves interviewing the individuals involved with the suspected outbreak. At the same time, laboratory specimens may be collected by the health department from people that are sick. Testing of human specimens and food may be conducted at the Ohio Department of Health, State Public Health Laboratory. Details collected during interviews of the ill help outbreak investigators determine which pathogens to test for at the state laboratory. If a restaurant or caterer was involved in the event, environmental health personnel from the Ohio local health department will be involved in the inspection. Other types of retail establishments would be inspected by the Ohio Department of Agriculture in order to determine if any factors can be identified that may have led to the outbreak. During both types of inspections, environmental health specialists record all violations and discuss them with the person in charge, in an attempt to educate them to prevent any repeat occurrences. Certain critical violations are fixed immediately as they are found during the inspection.

As information is collected, health department investigators try to put the “pieces of the puzzle” together, to come up with an educated guess (also called a hypothesis) as to what might have caused this outbreak. If the health department finds a likely candidate, an analytic study will be started. Food histories of the ill people will be compared to the food histories of the well people to identify likely culprits.  After an investigation has been completed, a report will be written by the local health district. This narrative report summarizes the findings of the outbreak investigation and provides recommendations to prevent its repeat occurrence in the future.

How does the Ohio Department of Health support foodborne disease outbreak investigations?

Local public health authorities investigate most foodborne disease outbreaks. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Bureau of Infectious Diseases, Outbreak Response and Bioterrorism Investigation Team (ORBIT), coordinates outbreaks that involve multiple counties and outbreaks from contaminated food distributed in Ohio.

When requested, ODH assists local public health agencies during outbreaks. Through the FoodCORE Project, ORBIT conducts interviews of people with foodborne illness on behalf of 90 local health jurisdictions. ODH provides laboratory support to confirm foodborne outbreaks. The ODH Bureau of Environmental Health and Radiation Protection, Food Safety Program provides advice to sanitarians investigating food service operations.

FoodCORE Project

Purpose

Ohio is one of 10 centers participating in the Foodborne Diseases Centers for Outbreak Response Enhancement (FoodCORE) project.  FoodCORE centers are funded by CDC to work together to develop new and better methods to detect, investigate, respond to and control multi-state outbreaks of foodborne diseases.

Although efforts are primarily focused on outbreaks caused by bacteria including Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Listeria, the ability to detect and investigate viral and parasitic foodborne disease outbreaks is also being enhanced and strengthened. 

Goals and Objectives

  • Building state and local health department capacity for laboratory surveillance, epidemiologic investigation and environmental assessment to improve response to foodborne disease outbreaks
  • Building collaborative models to conduct rapid, coordinated, standardized interviews at a central location
  • Developing measurable performance indicators
  • Through FoodCORE, the Ohio Department of Health's Outbreak Response and Bioterrorism Investigation Team (ORBIT) provides interview support to 90 local health jurisdictions through cooperative agreements.  ORBIT also works to improve Ohio’s capacity to track, investigate, diagnose and control illnesses.

Stool Collection

This video reviews how to collect, package and submit a stool specimen to your local health department for testing at the Ohio Department of Health Laboratory.

Have You Ever Heard of Norovirus?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can get infected and sick with norovirus. You can get norovirus from:

  • Having direct contact with an infected person
  • Consuming contaminated food or water
  • Touching contaminated surfaces then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth

This short video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains what norovirus is, how it is spread, groups that are at high risk for severe disease and how you can protect yourself and loved ones from getting it.