Searching for Salmonella, How the CDC Found the Salami.

Remember a few months ago when they discovered that a pepper-coated salami, was the cause of 245 people in 44 states getting salmonella?

It turns out that the CDC tracked it down, by using the affinity cards of the afflicted people. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention successfully used a new tool for the first time — the shopper cards that millions of Americans swipe every time they buy groceries. With permission from the patients, investigators followed the trail of grocery purchases to a Rhode Island company that makes salami, then zeroed in on the pepper used to season the meat. Never before had the CDC successfully mined the mountain of data that supermarket chains compile.”

What happened was that investigators thought it might be some sort of Italian meats, but months later, no one remembered what they had bought. Do you remember what you bought the last time you got groceries? So they asked several Washington state residents if they could trace their Costco purchases. Turned out five out of the seven had bought the same pepper coated salami, and the CDC was able to trace it to the spice suppliers in New York and New Jersey.

While the whole thing is pretty interesting, does it make you worry about the privacy of what you’re secretly stocking up on at your local big box store? Do you want the CDC knowing about that daily mega bag Doritos habit? How about the stockpile of toilet paper in the front closet? Paranoia is fine, but in this day and age, not very practical. If you ride the subway in New York, your MetroCard leaves a trail, as does the EZPass, and your cell phone, just to name a few. Besides, you’ve probably already given out too much information on Twitter, or Facebook, right?

So, do you think it’s a cool use of an affinity card to find the source of salmonella, or a potential invasion of privacy?


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