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Wegmans calls customers to spread meat recall news

After Wegmans recalled some fresh ground beef patties sold in its 71 stores, the supermarket chain used a new method to follow up with affected customers: automated phone calls.

Working with an outside company, Wegmans on Wednesday made calls with a recorded message to 150,000 shoppers who, electronic records showed, had bought ground beef with the dates covered by the recall.

Cargill Inc., which supplied the beef, announced last Saturday that more than 1 million pounds it had distributed to several food retailers, including Wegmans, might have been contaminated with E. coli bacteria. No illnesses were reported in conjunction with the recalled meat.

Shopper's Club cards were the key to the phone call system. Wegmans checked which customers' loyalty cards were swiped when they bought beef covered by the recall. The chain then used the contact information customers had provided for the program to make the calls, said Ann McCarthy, a Wegmans spokeswoman.

Last Saturday, Wegmans publicized information about how to obtain refunds. But the chain wanted to ensure customers knew and had all the details, leading to the automated calls, she said. If customers had questions, the recorded message gave customers the option of being connected to a person in Wegmans' consumer affairs department.

Customers were also given the choice of opting out of similar automated calls in the future, but an "infinitesimal" number of them did so, McCarthy said. Meanwhile, about 1,200 customers have called in with positive comments about the automated messages, she said.

In previous product recalls, Wegmans has used e-mails and postcards to contact customers, she said. In this case, customers who had signed up through Wegmans.com for electronic newsletters received e-mails about the recall, but they were not necessarily customers who had bought the recalled meat.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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