Earlier this week we began talking about how recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported using grocery store loyalty cards to trace salmonella contamination in the pepper used to season a salami product produced in Rhode Island.
Adam Myrick, Agency spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control in Columbia, South Carolina says that while South Carolina hasn’t employed the use of a grocery store loyalty program to date, they have other methods to track down food-borne pathogens.
In particular food borne outbreaks, or when you've got an investigation you think is pointing to a food borne outbreak, it's important to reach out to as many of the customers of an establishment, or as many attendees to a particular event as possible. One of the arrows int he quiver so to speak, in South Carolina is to go to the establishment if we think they're tied to a particular facility, and we've gotten some of their credit card information, nothing more than names and phone numbers, or in certain cases checks.
So, that is a way to get information and reach out to people as you conduct your investigation. Sometimes we have gone that route and gotten customer information that way, and it's very beneficial because it gets the information to them an makes them aware of the situation.
Dan Ragan, Food and Drug Protection Director for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture agrees; NCDA has used several methods to inform consumers of a potential pathogen:
We ussed a program to blast out, it's called reverse 911, where we got a group of numbers of customers of a particular firm that we wanted to get a recall out on that we just didn't feel like the information was getting out fast enough, and we informed a couple of thousand customers in ust a few minutes.
Ragan says that in this electronic age, it’s becoming easier and more efficient to contact people about a suspected food borne pathogen instead of solely relying on the media:
Ragan says he thinks it's becoming much,...we're working on the technology they're trying to get faster and better at it. But, we notify them of a recall then they're able to notify the consumer much quicker. We put out press releases, but even still--a notification from your grocery store would certainly be helpful.
So, while it may be a nuisance to dig around for those shopper cards every time you buy food, just remember that it could be important for your health.