ATLANTA– Education of foodservice workers and public health surveillance are critical tools in foodborne illness prevention, but gaps in both areas can limit the effectiveness of prevention efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

New CDC research found that food preparation and handling practices, worker health policies and hand-washing practices often were not reported during foodborne illness outbreaks, even though nearly half of all such reported outbreaks are associated with restaurants or delis. Increased awareness and proper food safety and handling practices in restaurants and delis may help prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, the agency concluded.

"Inspectors have not had a formal system to capture and report the underlying factors that likely contribute to foodborne outbreaks or a way to inform prevention strategies and implement routine corrective measures in restaurants, delis and schools to prevent future outbreaks," said Carol Selman, head of CDC's Environmental Health Specialists Network team at the National Center for Environmental Health.

The CDC along with state and local health departments developed a new data surveillance system an Internet-based course to advance the use of environmental health assessments as part of foodborne illness outbreaks.

"We are taking a key step forward in capturing critical data that will allow us to assemble a big picture view of the environmental causes of foodborne outbreaks," Selman said.

The National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System (NVEAIS) is targeted to state, tribal and other government entities that inspect and regulate restaurants and other foodservice operations such as banquet halls, schools, and other institutions. NVEAIS enables public health officials to capture underlying environmental assessment data. The information will help CDC and other agencies determine what led to a foodborne outbreak.

Also, a free interactive "e-learning" course is available to state and local health departments to help in foodborne illness outbreak investigations. The course also is available to members of the foodservice industry, academia and the public.