Identifying what food caused an illness is a difficult task. Investigators rely on people’s memory when they start tracing back illnesses from contaminated food. “The process of trying to determine what the causative food vehicle is when you have one of these outbreaks is part science and part magic,” Produce Marketing Association’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker joked.
Whitaker said identifying the source product is the first step to tracing an outbreak back to the farm, and it likely is the hardest. “There is a lot of work that is done by a lot of very smart professionals that are trying to understand what people ate and they are at the mercy of what people remember eating,” Whitaker said. “They are asking questions like ‘Do you remember what you at a month ago, in a certain period of time before you got sick?’ and most people can’t.”