Management of outbreaks of foodborne illness in England and Wales

Last updated:
4 August 2008
A framework for health professionals to assist them in the management of outbreaks of infectious intestinal disease caused by ingestion of microbiologically contaminated food.

It is designed to assist the Outbreak Control Team (OCT) in dealing with an outbreak and provides an aide-memoir for medical and nursing staff, environmental health professionals, scientists and others involved in the investigation.

This document updates Management of Outbreaks of Foodborne Disease (Department of Health 1994), reflecting the changes in roles and responsibilities of public bodies in 2008 following key reorganisations since 1994. These include the creation of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) 2000, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) 2004, Defra 2004 and the 2007 configurations of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities.

This is a summary guidance document for everyday use by investigators and is not designed to be an in depth resource, for which standard texts on microbiology, epidemiology and public health should be consulted.

The guide reflects current legislation for health protection against foodborne hazards and statutory Codes of Practice but it is not a statement of the law. In cases where contraventions of the law are identified, the risk they pose to public health should be considered and enforcement action commensurate to the risk taken. The requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 with regard to the interviewing of persons suspected of having committed an offence must also be met. However, from the perspective of this guide a successful outcome is the cessation of the outbreak, identification of what went wrong and the measures needed to prevent a recurrence.

Food poisoning is defined under the Food Safety Act as 'any disease of an infectious or toxic nature caused by or thought to be caused by the consumption of food or water'. In practice, outbreaks associated with the consumption of water from public and private drinking water supplies are considered under separate guidance and are not covered in this document, nor does it cover outbreaks due to direct contact with animals or environments contaminated by animal faeces. The document covers toxins produced by micro-organisms, but excludes all other categories of ingested chemical or radioactive poisons.