Responses to food incidents

A food incident can lead to foodborne illness or physical harm. Government agencies and food businesses work together to respond to and reduce the risk of food incidents.

What is a food incident

A food incident is a situation in the food supply chain that leads to a risk of foodborne illness or physical harm when people consume a food.

Who responds to food incidents

Public health and food agencies, government labs, local government agencies and the food industry work together to respond to incidents.

The food industry plays an important role by helping to:

  • alert government agencies to potential food incidents

  • support a quick response to protect public safety

  • trace foods back to their origin.

The specific agencies that respond to food incidents depend on the size and scope of the incident. They may respond alone or work together through OzFoodNet and the Bi-National Food Safety Network.


OzFoodNet is Australia’s national foodborne disease surveillance system. It has epidemiologists in each state and territory health department.

It surveys and analyses disease data and investigates foodborne disease.

The OzFoodNet Central team in the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care coordinates the system. 

Bi-National Food Safety Network

This network consists of:

As the secretariat, FSANZ coordinates activities and collates and shares information.

How the system responds to food incidents

There are 3 broad steps to responding to food incidents – identify, investigate and act.

1. Identify the incident

There are different ways to identify potential food incidents, such as:

  • food sampling, testing programs and inspections

  • consumer complaints

  • looking for patterns in surveillance data, such as clusters of illness

  • reports from the public, health professionals, government agencies or food businesses.

2. Investigate the incident

The investigations can be:

  • epidemiological

  • environmental

  • laboratory based.

Ideally, all 3 types are carried out.

Incidents that cross several jurisdictions may require a national response:

3. Act to stop the incident 

Each agency:

  • decides what needs to happen in their jurisdiction

  • responds in line with their food laws, response plans and protocols.

They should act to protect the public as soon as they can link the illness to a food product.

Control measures include:

  • removing food from sale – for example, through a food recall or by stopping a business from producing or selling food until the factors that caused the outbreak are remedied

  • improving food safety – for example, by changing processes or equipment, cleaning and disinfecting sites, or retraining staff

  • changing industry-wide practices to reduce the risk of food incidents

  • encouraging food businesses to develop food recall plans.

If needed, the Bi-National Food Safety Network may also activate the National Food Incident Response Protocol. This ensures a national response that is timely, appropriate and consistent.

Most foodborne illness outbreaks are local events. Local government bodies work together to respond to outbreaks in their area.


To report a possible food incident, contact the relevant food agency.

Date last updated: