Environmental health specialists’ self-reported foodborne illness outbreak investigation practices

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To collect qualitative data on the investigation practices of environmental health specialists with respect to foodborne illness outbreaks, the authors convened six focus groups of randomly selected specialists working in public health agencies in eight states. Participants discussed their investigation activities, methods used to identify contributing factors, success in identifying contributing factors, and the difficulties they faced when conducting investigations. Findings revealed substantial variability in the type of activities in which participants engaged during investigations, and the amount and nature of the collaboration between epidemiologists and environmental health specialists during investigations. Many participants indicated that during investigations they often did not identify contributing factors associated with an outbreak. Participants also identified several difficulties associated with outbreak investigations, including difficulties associated with restaurant employees, restaurant customers, and environmental health organizations.

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