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  1. Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness

Environmental Assessments from Foodborne Illness or Contamination Events

An environmental assessment is an investigation to learn what factors may have contributed to an outbreak of foodborne illness or a food contamination event. When either occur, the agency’s first priority is to respond quickly to minimize the number of illnesses. Once an outbreak or contamination event is contained, the focus shifts to learning the likely cause and contributing factors and identifying preventive controls to prevent reoccurrence of a similar event.

The EA team will start the investigation by looking at the information that was learned during the outbreak, including potential contamination sources such as farms, processing/manufacturing food facilities, distribution warehouses, retail food distributers or restaurants, and more. They will use this information to conduct site visits where necessary at the places described above, as well as examining nearby agricultural operations, water sources, and animal habitats that may have contributed to the contamination event.

During these visits the EA team will generally interview management and staff about food safety policies and procedures. They will walk through the site and document information and observations on any variables that may have negatively influenced the food safety system at the time of the outbreak. The team will also collect environmental samples to determine if a link to the outbreak strain exists from that location. In addition, the team will examine information such as food source records, process monitoring logs, written policies for personal hygiene, facility design diagrams and recipes.

After assessing the information collected and identifying factors that potentially led to the outbreak or contamination event, the EA team will provide recommendations to the farm, facility, or industry that will include measures that can be taken to prevent similar contamination from occurring in the future. Findings from the environmental assessment may also prompt regulatory action where appropriate.

A final report summarizing each investigation will be made available to the public on FDA’s website. These environmental assessments help identify outbreak and contamination trends and preventive controls that may be more broadly applicable to the industry.  


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