Should Supermarkets Be Responsible For Notifying Club Card Members Of Recalls?

A new class-action lawsuit being brought against Safeway claims that the supermarket chain failed in its duty to actively notify members of its Safeway Club card program about recalls for food sold at the store.

The lawsuit was filed (with the backing of the Center for Science in the Public Interest) by two club members who purchased items that were subsequently recalled.

Said one of the plaintiffs:

As a concerned parent I take care with my purchases and I assume that the foods we bring home from Safeway will be safe to eat… If Safeway knows that there is a problem, and they know how to get in touch with me, quite frankly I’m astonished that they wouldn’t try to spare me or my children from a preventable foodborne illness.

The lawsuit claims that stores like Costco and Walmart make efforts to contact their club members via e-mail whenever a product they have purchased has been recalled.

“Safeway aggressively uses its Club card data to churn out coupons, analyze its customers’ shopping habits, and otherwise boost sales,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “Yet when it knows it has sold products that may be contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella, or other hazards, it does not use its robust marketing database to prevent illnesses or deaths.”

When reached for comment by Consumerist, a Safeway rep responded:

Safeway notifies its customers of Class I recalls consistent with all legal/ regulatory requirements. In addition to press releases, Safeway voluntarily posts on its web site recall information concerning private label/ Safeway brand products, products sold in our meat, deli and bakery departments, or products otherwise sold without a supplier/manufacturer label.

Our web site also directs customers to related government web sites that provide more information about Safeway and non-Safeway recalls. Each recall is reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it lends itself to other, additional types of notification. For instance, we have posted recall signs at the point of purchase in our stores; provided customer recall information on cash register receipts; and used Club Card data to make automated or personal telephone calls to customers regarding recalled products.

One size does not fit all. Indeed, less than 50 percent of all grocery retailers even have Club Card programs, thus the ability to contact customers individually is not an industry norm. Shoppers are not required to provide contact information to obtain a Safeway “Club Card” frequent shopper card. Neither do they purchase a membership, which requires them to supply personal contact information, as do shoppers of retail clubs like Costco. We consider the information/ data that is available to determine how to best provide recall information to our customers.

But the real question is: Should a supermarket be notify customers just because it has their contact information? More importantly, should the supermarket be legally compelled to notify customers about recalls?

Safeway Sued for Failure to Notify Consumers of Recalled Food [CSPI]