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CDC Uses Grocery Cards to Trace Salmonella Outbreak

sporesIn successfully uncovering the source of a recent salmonella outbreak, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used a new tool — the shopper cards that millions of Americans swipe for discounts when they buy groceries.

“It was really exciting. It was a break in the investigation for sure,” according to CDC epidemiologist Casey Barton Behravesh.

Victims, by and large, did not seem to have a problem handing over their shopper cards. Raymond Cirimele, a 55-year-old Chicago man, said that though no one asked for his card, he would have handed it over happily.  “I don’t have any secrets, so I’m not worried about it,” he said. “It’s kind of like the whole airport security and all that. I’d rather fly on a safe plane.”  Supermarkets generally supply information to health authorities with customers consent, according to an official from the Food Marketing Institute.

“In this instance, we actually worked very closely with the CDC,” said Christine Summers, the Issaquah, Wash., chain’s director of food safety. “They ask, `Did this member purchase products A, B or C in this time frame?’ and we tell them, `Yes, they did’ or `No, they didn’t.'”

Bruce Chassy, a food safety professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted the difficulty in rooting out the causes of outbreaks caused by prepared foods with multiple ingredients.  “Cantaloupes and eggs are easy,” he said. “The fact that it’s only an ingredient in products in other things, that makes it really hard to track.”

According to the FDA press release, the Montevideo salmonella outbreak was caused by black pepper used in the preparation of ready-to-eat lunch meat by Daniele International.  The Wholesome Spice Company has also recalled ground and crushed red pepper sold to Daniele International.

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