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Nordstrom’s Typhoid Outbreak Used POS Data To Contact Individual Shoppers

Written by Frank Hayes
May 8th, 2013

After a cook in one of its in-store restaurants was discovered to have typhoid fever, Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) is trying to directly contact customers who might have been exposed to the disease. The retailer is sifting through point-of-sale transactions from the Nordstrom Cafe in the store at San Francisco’s Stonestown Galleria mall in an attempt to identify specific customers who could have been exposed, but that’s proving more challenging than expected, a spokesperson for the chain said on Monday (May 6).

The San Francisco health department notified the store late last Thursday (May 2) that an employee was diagnosed with typhoid and may have exposed customers who ate in the restaurant to it on April 16, 17, 18, 20 or 27. As of this week, no cases of customers or other store associates having the disease have been reported, according to the health department. But Nordstrom is still trying to track down anyone potentially exposed.

“We actually are in the process of trying to determine customers who ate in the Cafe during the days of exposure by pulling purchasing information” from the POS system, said Tara Darrow, public affairs director at Nordstrom. “The process to do this is not as easy as we hoped it would be, but we’re hoping that we can make that happen and communicate direct with those customers this week.”

The dates that customers were at risk stretch back more than two weeks because typhoid fever symptoms develop slowly, and until the cook felt sick enough to get medical help he wouldn’t have known he had typhoid, which is rare in the U.S.—only a few hundred cases are reported each year, though there are tens of millions of typhoid fever cases every year worldwide.

The good news is that the infected line cook would have probably spread the disease only if he failed to wash his hands properly after a bathroom break. If standard food-handling sanitation was observed, there shouldn’t be any further contagion.

Along with the health department’s announcement, Nordstrom issued its own statement, offering free testing at local clinics for anyone who might have been exposed.

Nordstrom’s Darrow didn’t elaborate on the issues that are hobbling the effort to identify exposed customers using POS data. But the biggest problem is likely the fact that payment cards are designed to take customer details out of the hands of retailers. Between PCI security requirements and state laws, there’s only a limited range of personal information that a retailer can keep on a customer with an ordinary in-store transaction.


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