The practice of foodborne illness outbreak investigations has evolved, shifting away from large-scale community case-control studies towards more focused case exposure assessments and sub-cluster investigations to identify contaminated food sources. Criteria to include or exclude cases are established to increase the efficiency of epidemiological analyses and traceback activities, but these criteria can also affect the investigator's ability to implicate a suspected food vehicle. A 2010 outbreak of Salmonella ser. Hvittingfoss infections associated with a chain of quick-service restaurants (Chain A) provided a useful case study on the impact of exclusion criteria on the ability to identify a food vehicle. In the original investigation, a case-control study of restaurant-associated cases and well meal companions was conducted at the ingredient level to identify a suspected food vehicle; however, 21% of cases and 22% of well meal companions were excluded for eating at Chain A restaurants more than once during the outbreak. The objective of this study was to explore how this decision affected the results of the outbreak investigation.
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