Background: Food-borne disease outbreaks constitute a large health burden on society. One of the challenges when investigating such outbreaks is to trace the origin of the outbreak. In this study, we consider a network model to determine the spatial origin of the contaminated food product that caused the outbreak. Methods: The network model we use replaces the classic geographic distance of a network by an effective distance so that two nodes connected by a long-range link may be more strongly connected than their geographic distance would suggest. Furthermore, the effective distance transforms complex spatial patterns into regular topological patterns, creating a means for easier identification of the origin of the spreading phenomenon. Because detailed information on food distribution is generally not available, the model uses the gravity model from economics: the flow of goods from one node to another increases with population size and decreases with the geographical distance between them. Results: This effective distance network approach has been shown to perform well in a large Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak in Germany in 2011. In this article, we apply the same method to various food-borne disease outbreaks in the Netherlands. We found the effective distance network approach to fail in certain scenarios. Conclusions: Great care should be taken as to whether the underlying network model correctly captures the spreading mechanism of the outbreak in terms of spatial scale and single or multiple source outbreak.