Since 2009, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has received FoodCORE funding to hire graduate students to conduct in-depth food exposure interviews of salmonellosis case patients. In 2011, an increase in the number of Salmonella Heidelberg infections with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis XbaI pattern JF6X01.0022 among observant Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey was investigated. As this pattern is common nationwide, some cases identified were not associated with the outbreak. To reduce the number of background cases, DOHMH focused on the community initially identified in the outbreak and defined a case as a person infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg with illness onset from 1 April to 17 November 2011 and who consumed a kosher diet, spoke Yiddish, or self-identified as Jewish. Nationally, 190 individuals were infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg; 63 New York City residents met the DOHMH case definition. In October 2011, the graduate students (Team Salmonella) interviewed three case patients who reported eating broiled chicken livers. Laboratory testing of chicken liver samples revealed the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. Although they were only partially cooked, the livers appeared fully cooked, and consumers and retail establishment food handlers did not cook them thoroughly before eating or using them in a ready-to-eat spread. This investigation highlighted the need to prevent further illnesses from partially cooked chicken products. Removing background cases helped to focus the investigation. Training graduate students to collect exposure information can be a highly effective model for conducting foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak investigations for local and state departments of public health.

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