New Research: Top Three Foodborne Illness Outbreak Root Causes, Food Worker Survey Insights

The Role of People in Foodborne Illness Outbreak Prevention

A new open access article analyzes data from state and local health departments’ investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks to identify key contributing factors and root causes. Authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the article uses data collected from the National Environmental Assessment Reporting System (NEARS) from 2017-2019.

Key findings:

  • The top three outbreak root causes identified by investigators fell in the ‘people’ category. This includes lack of managerial oversight of employees, lack of training of employees, and lack of food safety culture.
  • Lack of oversight of employees and lack of sick leave for employees were more common root causes for norovirus outbreaks than for bacterial outbreaks. Foodborne norovirus outbreaks are often caused by sick workers. The findings suggest that managerial oversight of employees (to help ensure they don’t work sick) and paid sick leave (to support employees staying home when sick) help prevent food contamination leading to norovirus outbreaks.
  • Equipment related root causes (e.g., broken equipment) were more common for bacterial outbreaks than for norovirus outbreaks. Restaurants rely on equipment to maintain proper food temperatures; when equipment fails to do this, bacteria can survive and grow on food. This finding highlights the importance of using and maintaining equipment properly to prevent bacterial outbreaks.

NEARS data is collected from state and local health departments who investigate foodborne illness outbreaks in their jurisdictions and report their findings to this national-level surveillance system. Environmental assessment data describe how the environment contributed to the outbreak and identify factors that contributed to the outbreak and root causes of the outbreak.

The research reinforces food safety recommendations for restaurants to ensure active managerial control of foodborne illness risk factors, such as sick employees and malfunctioning equipment.

Survey of 1,500 Minnesota Food Workers Provides Insights on Attitudes and Behaviors Related to Food Safety

The results of a survey of 1,500 Minnesota food workers reveal their preferences on sharing information, their perceptions of inspections, and their behavior when ill. The Minnesota Department of Health found that most workers valued inspections and reported positive interactions with their health inspectors. The article, which was featured on the cover of the June edition of the Journal of Environmental Health, is available through the journal’s open access webpage.

Updated CDC Websites

Explore CDC’s updated websites on restaurant food safety and environmental health resources.