Ryan Newkirk, Craig Hedberg, and Jeff Bender in FOODBORNE PATHOGENS AND DISEASE did a masterful job of explaining how to do an foodborne disease outbreak investigation – from the perspective of a milkborne one

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 7.54.11 AM.pngObjectives: The main objectives of this study were to establish baseline characteristics for milkborne outbreaks, establish an expected milkborne outbreak profile, and identify potential indicators of food terrorism.

Materials: This study used 1990–2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Annual Listings of Disease Outbreaks and the Foodborne Outbreak Database (FOOD) to establish epidemiologic baseline characteristics for disease outbreaks associated with fluid milk. FOOD data from 2007 were used to qualitatively validate the potential of the baseline characteristics and the expected outbreak profile.

Results: Eighty-three fluid milkborne outbreaks were reported between 1990 and 2006, resulting in 3621 illnesses. The mean number of illnesses per outbreak was 43.6 (illness range: 2–1644). Consumption of unpasteurized milk was associated with 55.4% of reported outbreaks. Campylobacter spp., Escherichia coli, and Salmonella spp. caused 51.2%, 10.8%, and 9.6% of reported outbreaks, respectively. Private homes accounted for 41.0% of outbreak locations. Number ill, outbreak location, and etiology were the primary characteristics which could signal a potential intentional contamination event. In 2007, one pasteurized milk outbreak caused by Listeria was flagged as aberrative compared with the expected outbreak profile.

Conclusions: The creation and dissemination of expected outbreak profiles and epidemiologic baseline characteristics allow public health and Homeland Security officials to quickly assess the potential of intentional food contamination. A faster public health and medical system response can result in decreased morbidity and mortality.