ABSTRACT

The Florida Complaint and Outbreak Reporting System (FL-CORS) database is used by the Florida Department of Health's Food and Waterborne Disease Program as one of the tools to detect foodborne disease outbreaks (FBOs). We present a descriptive and spatial network analysis of FL-CORS data collected during 2015 to 2018. We also quantified FBOs that were investigated and confirmed because of a filed complaint and the etiological agents involved in these outbreaks. An increasing number of unique complaints filed in FL-CORS was observed during 2015 to 2018, with a sharp increase during 2017 to 2018 and a different seasonal pattern in 2018. The preferred mechanism of reporting varied by age group, with younger people more frequently filing complaints online and older people preferring reporting in person or by phone. Spatial network analysis revealed that 87% of complaints had the same county of residence and county of presumed exposure. Frequency of complaints was negatively associated with linear distance between place of residence and place of exposure at the zip code level. Counties located in North and Central Florida, as well as some coastal areas in South Florida, had higher incidence rates of complaints. Those counties tend to have a large population density, and some are popular vacation destinations. On average, 96 FBOs were reported in Florida annually, of which 60% were confirmed with successful identification of the causative agent. The 56% of the confirmed FBOs were triggered by a complaint. Throughout the years, 2.4 to 2.8 FBOs and 1.4 confirmed FBOs were identified per 100 complaints. Ciguatera toxin was the cause of 40% of all FBOs in Florida, and only 28% of outbreaks were detected through complaints. In contrast, complaints were the main source of identifying outbreaks of norovirus, nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica, and scombroid food poisoning, as well as rare outbreaks of Clostridium perfringens, Cryptosporidium spp., Shigella spp., and Vibrio vulnificus.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Consumer complaints helped detect more than half of foodborne outbreaks in Florida.

  • Complaints were the main source of detecting norovirus, Salmonella, and scombroid outbreaks.

  • Young people prefer filing online, whereas older people report by phone or in person.

  • Most putative foodborne illnesses were related to eating out near a place of residence.

  • Major tourist destinations in Florida were presumed exposure hotspots.

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