Foodborne Disease Outbreaks

Current foodborne illness outbreaks and investigations

Cause: Many infectious agents including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Common agents causing outbreaks are E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and viral agents.

Illness and treatment: Symptoms and treatment vary with the agent.

Sources: Sources vary with the agent. Foodborne outbreaks can occur from inherently toxic or contaminated ingredients, cross contamination between raw animal products and ready to eat foods, contamination by a food handler, temperature abuse after cooking resulting in microbial growth, and improper cooking.

Additional risks: Risks vary with the agent.

Prevention: Safe food handling from farm to table is essential to prevent foodborne illness: avoid contamination at the source, destroy pathogens by proper cooking, and prevent bacterial growth by temperature control methods. Provide education programs for food handlers on proper sanitation, cooking and handling practices. Prevent future cases with prompt investigation of foodborne illness complaints, with laboratory evaluation of illness agents and implicated foods. System wide improvements are needed to trace contaminated foods back to a source.

Recent Washington trends: Foodborne outbreaks may be difficult to detect unless a defined group or related persons are affected. There are typically 30 to 50 outbreaks reported every year with the majority of outbreaks reported during the summer months.

Purpose of Reporting and Surveillance

  • To prevent transmission from infected persons.
  • To correct food-preparation practices that allow contamination with foodborne disease (FBD) agents.
  • To quickly remove a contaminated food product from the commercial market and limit the spread of an outbreak.
  • To expand current understanding of the transmission, pathogenesis and community impact of illness caused by known FBD pathogens.
  • To identify new FBD agents, hazards or gaps in the food safety system.

Legal Reporting Requirements

  • Health care providers and Health care facilities: Immediately notifiable to local health jurisdiction.
  • Laboratories: No requirements for reporting FBD outbreaks; see disease-specific reporting requirements.
  • Local health jurisdictions: Immediately notifiable to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Office of Communicable Disease Epidemiology (CDE).