Source attribution of foodborne diseases

Source attribution of foodborne illnesses is the process of estimating the most important sources responsible for specific foodborne illnesses. We use data from public health surveillance and monitoring of animals and foods to partition cases of different foodborne illnesses to animal, food and environmental sources.

Foodborne diseases can be caused by a variety of hazards, of foods, and even non-food sources. Determining the sources of foodborne illness is an important part of identifying the most appropriate measures to improve food safety. To be able to intervene in the food production chain – from the farms and production fields to our tables - risk managers need to know where to focus and allocate resources.

Several approaches to attribute foodborne diseases to sources have been developed in the last years. The most commonly used are hazard- occurrence analysis, like models that use microbial subtyping surveillance data on humans and/or animals in mathematical and risk assessment models; and epidemiological methods, mostly analysis of outbreak data or case-control studies of sporadic infections. Other approaches include intervention studies, expert elicitations, and methods that integrate some of these approaches.

The usefulness of each method to attribute disease caused by a foodborne hazard depends on the public health question being addressed, on the data requirements, on advantages and limitations of the method, and on the data availability to apply these models.

Salmonella has been among the most important foodborne pathogens in Denmark in the last decades. The incidence of salmonellosis in the country reached a peak in the late 90’s and has since then decreased sharply, reaching to figures lower than the European average. Identifying the causative food sources and prioritizing interventions has been crucial to reduce the burden of foodborne salmonellosis in the population.

Read the full description of Source attribution of foodborne diseases (pdf)

See also about our research area Burden of foodborne diseases


Statens Serum Institut (SSI) 

Research groups


Tine Hald
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 70 94


Sara Monteiro Pires
Senior Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 40 21 34 89
7 MARCH 2021