Outbreak Investigations

When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak. FDA investigates outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future. Learn how outbreaks are investigated below.

View Recent Outbreaks

CORE Investigation Process

CORE includes a Signals and Surveillance Team, three Response Teams, and a Post-Response Team. An investigation coordinated by CORE begins with the Signals and Surveillance Team. 

The Signals and Surveillance Team is all about early detection that will limit or prevent illness linked to dietary supplements, cosmetics, and foods for both people and animals regulated by the FDA. Team members comb through information that is reported into various databases by local and state health agencies and even search through news stories. The team members are looking for “signals” or “red flags” that could be an early warning of a pending outbreak. They discuss emerging disease surveillance trends directly with CDC and, through FDA field offices, with state health agencies. In addition, the Signals Team searches FDA data for historical information on firms, such as past inspections or sampling results, all in an effort to “connect the dots.” 

Once an outbreak related to an FDA-regulated product is identified, all of the available information is handed over to one of the three response teams. Response Teams have one goal: to control and stop the outbreak. First, they must find the source and then they must ensure contaminated product is taken out of circulation. To do that, a Response Team works directly with the FDA field offices and their investigators on a response strategy. In a combined effort, the team, field offices and state and local agencies track down leads, and trace product distribution. The information provided through this detective work is evaluated against the information on illnesses to make sure the investigators are on the right track. Close coordination among the FDA, CDC, and state and local regulatory, public health and agriculture departments is crucial to stopping an outbreak. CORE is the coordination point for all FDA resources. 

When the active response to an outbreak is complete, the CORE Response Team transfers responsibility to the Post-Response Team. This team looks at all aspects and factors of the outbreak, from ingredient sourcing to production and distribution, including from foreign countries. Team members work to identify the source of an outbreak and how the contamination could be prevented in the future. Their work may lead to new research on how contamination can occur, or it may lead to outreach to industry and other food safety agency partners on new ways to prevent future outbreaks. Improving FDA internal processes is also a key interest of the team, which evaluates, along with other federal and state partners, the FDA response in order to incorporate lessons learned and constantly improve future responses.

From August 2011 through December 2016, CORE teams have evaluated more than 575 potential foodborne illness incidents. In addition, teams have identified and investigated 140 outbreaks suspected of being linked to FDA-regulated products.

Year Outbreaks Investigated
2016 22
2015 19
2014 21
2013 22
2012 22
2011 32

These outbreak investigations have generated more than 900 recommendations for prevention activities, research, industry outreach, or process improvement. 



Page Last Updated: 11/05/2018
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