Safeway May Face Lawsuit for Failing to Alert Purchasers of Recalled Food

Unlike Other Chains, Safeway Won’t Use Club Card Data to Notify Members of Recalls, Says CSPI


Even though it collects phone numbers and email addresses from its Club Card members, Safeway won’t use that data to contact people who bought contaminated food. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interesttoday notified Safeway that CSPI will file a lawsuit against the grocery chain if it fails to adopt a policy to notify Club Card members who purchased contaminated food subject to recalls.

Many other leading retailers do use customer contact information generated by their bonus card programs to notify consumers when they’ve purchased recalled food. In 2009, as thousands of peanut-containing products tainted with deadly Salmonella bacteria were being recalled, chains such as Costco sent letters or automated phone calls out to people who bought those foods. That was also the practice of Giant, Harris Teeter, Price Chopper, ShopRite, Wegman’s, and other chains. Even though that outbreak sickened hundreds and claimed nine lives, Safeway did not contact its Club Card shoppers during that or other recalls.

“It shocks the conscience that a major retailer would sit on its hands, even though it has easy access to the emails, addresses, and phone numbers of those who have purchased food that might be contaminated,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “Perhaps Safeway saves a few pennies by remaining silent. But why would you knowingly risk letting your customers fall ill, or worse, die?”

Unless Safeway makes a commitment to notify consumers of Class 1 recalls—those recalls of products “that predictably could cause serious health problems or death”—CSPI will file a lawsuit aimed at compelling the company to do so, the group said in a letter to Safeway chairman and CEO Steven A. Burd. In the letter, CSPI says that Safeway’s failure to notify consumers that they’ve bought potentially dangerous products violates state consumer protection laws in Texas, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and California.

According to the privacy policy on Safeway’s web site, Club Card data “may be used to help make Safeway’s products, services and programs more useful to its customers.” And, the company reserves the right to “disclose personal information to our related companies and third parties.” Yet, even when it has sold foods that might have been contaminated with E. Coli, Salmonella, botulism, or other deadly hazards, Safeway does not use its Club Card information to prevent customers from eating that food, according to CSPI. 

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