The analytical studies used to investigate foodborne outbreak are mostly case-control or retrospective cohort studies. However, these studies can be complex to perform and susceptible to biases. This article addresses basic principles of epidemiology, probability, and the use of case-case design to identify the source of an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to raw milk cheese consumption in Quebec, Canada; a small number of cases with the same pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) profile were involved. Between 4 December 2008 and 15 January 2009, a cumulative total of 16 E. coli O157:H7 cases with the same PFGE profile were reported to Quebec public health authorities. Among the first six cases reported, three had consumed raw milk cheese from the same producer (cheese A). Raw milk cheese is consumed by about 2% of the Quebec population. By using the exact probability calculation, it was found that a significantly higher proportion of E. coli O157:H7 cases (with the specific PFGE profile) than expected had consumed cheese A (P < 0.001). These computations were updated during the course of the investigation to include subsequent cases and gave the same results. A case-case study corroborated this result. This article considers alternative statistical and epidemiological approaches to investigate a foodborne outbreak—in particular with an exact probability calculation and case-case comparisons. This approach could offer a fast and inexpensive alternative to regular case-control studies to target public health actions, particularly during a foodborne outbreak.

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