A foodborne outbreak is an indication that something needs to be improved in our food safety system. Public health scientists investigate outbreaks to control them, and also to learn how similar outbreaks can be prevented in the future. Just as when a fire breaks out in a large building or when an airliner crashes, 2 activities are critical when an outbreak occurs.
First, emergency action is needed to keep the immediate danger from spreading, and second, a detailed objective scientific investigation is needed to learn what went wrong, so that future similar events can be prevented.
Much of what we know about foodborne disease and its prevention comes from detailed investigation of outbreaks. This is often how a new pathogen is identified, and this is how the critical information linking a pathogen to a specific food and animal reservoir is first gathered. The full investigation can require a team with multiple talents, including the epidemiologist, microbiologist, food sanitarian, food scientist, veterinarian, and factory process engineer.