Your shopper loyalty card can do more than save you money at the store. It can provide valuable information to public health officials when they’ve discovered tainted food.


If you recall, in 2009 there was an outbreak of salmonella due to tainted black and red pepper that affected people in 44 states. USA Today reports that public health officials were able to track down the source by examining records from Costco loyalty cards. They found that most of the people who had gotten sick had purchased the same deli meat, and when tested, the pepper on the meat carried the salmonella.


More recently, Turkish pine nuts tainted with salmonella were sickening people on the East Coast. After realizing that all of those sickened shopped at Wegmans, officials were able to comb through loyalty card records to pinpoint it was the nuts that were making people sick.


Not only can the information contained in records from loyalty cards help track down the source of a foodborne illness, it can also prevent those who have purchased the product from getting sick. Shoppers that have bought food believed to be tainted can be contacted and told about the potential danger. In fact, I recall that several years ago I received a phone call from Wegmans warning me that something I may have bought could possibly be tainted or had been recalled. I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember receiving the phone call, and I knew that they were calling me because of information they tracked on my loyalty card.


There is some question about privacy when it comes to public health officials accessing shopping records. I’ve never considered my shopping record to be private. It occurred to me the first time I signed up for a shopper loyalty card that I was giving up the right to not have someone know what has been in my grocery cart. Considering the fact that sometimes tainted food can be deadly, if that information can be used to keep my family from harm, I’m okay with it.


I know there are others who will disagree. Tell my why.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Can your shopper-loyalty card save your life?
When public health officials are granted access to grocery store records, they can contact shoppers about possible tainted food. Is that worth public officials