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Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

washing hands

Foodborne illnesses occur when an individual consumes food contaminated with pathogens, which grow in the intestines and cause illness.  There are many opportunities for these agents to contaminate food and compromise food safety.  These opportunities exist at different stages in the farm to table continuum.  Investigation of a foodborne disease outbreak is three fold process including an Epidemiologic investigation, Environmental investigation, and Laboratory Investigation.

Epidemiologic Investigation

When foodborne illness or outbreak is identified, public health officials begin an investigation to obtain as much information as possible with the purpose of controlling the outbreak so that more people do not get sick and to prevent similar outbreaks from occurring in the future.

Environmental Investigation

If a potential outbreak site is identified, an environmental investigation will be conducted at the suspected location. The inspection focuses on temperatures and sanitation of food storage areas, safe food handling practices, prior and current health status of food handlers, details of preparation of implicated foods including dates and times of preparation. General infection control measures are reviewed with the food handlers and managers, and enforced, as necessary.  An environmental investigation also involves correction/compliance of critical deficiencies onsite, if necessary.

For additional information about environmental investigations, visit the Department of Health's Food Safety page.

Laboratory Investigation

The DC Public Health Laboratory (DC PHL) plays an important role in the investigation of sporadic cases and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. DC PHL is responsible for the testing of human and food specimens with the purpose of identifying the cause of illness. 

Reporting a Foodborne Illness

Physicians: To report a patient with a laboratory-confirmed foodborne illness to the Department of Health, please submit a Notifiable Disease and Condition Case Report Form online.  You may also contact the Division of Epidemiology-Disease Surveillance and Investigation at [email protected].

Residents: To report an illness associated with a food or a restaurant, contact the Division of Epidemiology- Disease Surveillance and Investigation at [email protected].

Additional Resources

Service Contact: 
Center for Policy, Planning and Evaluation Division of Epidemiology- Disease Surveillance and Invest
Contact Phone: 
(202) 442-9150
Contact Fax: 
(202) 442-8060
Contact TTY: 
Office Hours: 
Monday to Friday 8:15 am to 4:45 pm
Service Location: 

Health, Department of

GIS Address: 
2201 Shannon Place SE