The CDC Redesigned Its Database For Looking Up Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Image courtesy of army.arch *Adam*

The question of who is in charge of a given foodborne outbreak can become complicated in the United States: responsibility for testing and recalling different food types and for tracing infectious diseases is split between three federal government and numerous state and local government agencies. Yet there is one great tool that the infectious disease experts over at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given us: The FOOD database.

No, not a database of food, which would be delicious. FOOD stands for Foodborne Outbreak Online Database, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a database of food outbreaks across the country since 1998, the pathogen involved, their location, how many people were sick or died, and what food the pathogen traveled in.

Sometimes the food involved isn’t confirmed. For example, I searched for outbreaks at work in New York State between 1998 and 2014.


Some outbreaks are only “suspected” because the pathogen involved isn’t confirmed clinically, such as through a blood or stool sample or a sample of the contaminated food. Those outbreaks are still in the database.

No, the identities of the foodservice establishments or private homes involved in outbreaks aren’t available in this database, which may or may not be useful consumer information. Instead, you might be able to find that information in local news reports, or evaluate local eateries by reading their health inspection reports. What the database is useful for is answering questions like, “How many people have been killed by tuna sandwiches in this country since 1998?” (None.) Or you could do public health research or something. I guess.

Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD Tool) [CDC]
FAQs About Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD Tool) [CDC]

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