PLEASANTON (AP) — A consumer group is backing a lawsuit that two consumers filed against grocery operator Safeway Inc., saying the company could have used loyalty card information to contact them after they bought recalled food but it failed to do so.
A Montana woman, Dee Hensley-Maclean, bought peanut butter crackers and Nutter Butter sandwich cookies that were part of a nationwide recall of products that producers said might be tainted with Salmonella.
The second plaintiff, Jennifer Rosen of San Francisco, bought eggs at her local Safeway that were subject to a recall.
Hensley-Maclean and Rosen filed the lawsuit Friday in California Superior Court.
Each woman used a Safeway Club reward card during her transaction, and that gave the retailer access to her phone number, e-mail address and mailing address, but Safeway did not contact either of them directly.
In the complaint, women ask that they and others who bought recalled food be refunded the price of those purchases and that Safeway commit to using its reward card data to contact consumers in the event of future recalls.
Safeway, headquartered in Pleasanton, said it meets all legal and regulatory requirements related to such recalls and it has voluntarily posted information on its web site and in stores about recalls.
The company said each recall is reviewed individually to determine whether the company should take additional measures to notify consumers. In some cases, it has used its loyalty card data to make automated or personal telephone calls to consumers about recalled products.
“One size does not fit all,” Safeway said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
Safeway operates some 1,775 stores in the U.S. and Canada, under its own name and other brands, including Vons in California and Nevada, Randalls and Tom Thumb in Texas, Genuardi’s in Philadelphia and Carrs in Alaska.
Safeway said shoppers are not required to give personal information to obtain a card.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates retailers directly contacting consumers when able, backed the lawsuit.
Other retailers, such as Costco Wholesale Corp. and Kroger Co., typically use their membership and loyalty card data to contact consumers who buy food that is later recalled.
“Safeway aggressively uses its club card data to churn out coupons, analyze its customers’ shopping habits and otherwise boost sales,” said Steve Gardner, litigation director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “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.”
The consumer group notified Safeway in May that it might seek a court order directing the company to notify customers who bought food subject to recalls if the company did not do so on its own.
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