Searching Foodborne Illness Outbreak Data is Easy with the CDC's Redesigned Online Tool
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Searching Foodborne Illness Outbreak Data is Easy with the CDC's Redesigned Online Tool

October 21, 2015

Should you be in the market for some foodborne illness outbreak data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a tool for you.

The redesigned Foodborne Outbreak Online Database Tool, aptly called the FOOD Tool, lets users search nearly 20 years of outbreak data by state, food, or germ.

An estimated 1 in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne illness every year. Some result in deaths, like the listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream. It's important to remember that many people may experience mild cases of foodborne illness and won't seek medical attention. The tool was developed in 2009 and only includes national foodborne outbreak data reported to the CDC between 1998 and 2014.

The data come from CDC's Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS), which captures information on foodborne outbreaks caused by enteric (intestinal) bacterial, viral, parasitic, and chemical agents reported by state, local, and territorial public health agencies.

The CDC says that tracking and reporting outbreak information is critical to understanding how the illness will affect consumers. Public health investigators can use the database to help point them toward possible contaminated food sources by searching foods, and the germs, implicated in past outbreaks.

You don't need to be a public health investigator to use the tool though. It's fairly user friendly. Simply put the time span you wish to include, the geographic location, the place of preparation, any particular ingredients, and finally, the germ that caused the outbreak.

For example using the tool, we were able to find that of the five salmonella outbreaks that occurred in North Carolina, four were linked to restaurants while one was linked to a caterer. In total, more than 200 people became ill and 10 were hospitalized.