Shoppers Sue Safeway Claiming Grocer Didn't Tell Them of Recalls

Two consumers sued grocery giant Safeway, claiming that the retailer didn't tell them about product recalls -- and the nonprofit group is supporting the lawsuit.

The suit was filed today in California Superior Court and seeks refunds for recalled products and a commitment from Safeway to use its Safeway Club card data to tell consumers of recalls. Club cards are used by stores such as Safeway, Costco and Sam's Club to track purchases and tailor receipt coupons for consumers based on past purchases. The stores also use the data to contact customers with deals, promotions and other information.
Safeway's Director of Corporate Public Affairs Teena Massingill sent a statement to Consumer Ally explaining its policy on recalls and said that it does work to inform its customers.

(The company's statement appears in its entirety at the end of this story.)

Dee Hensley-Maclean of Montana and Jennifer Rosen of California brought the suit, claiming that they bought products that were later recalled. Although both used their Safeway Club cards, neither say they were told of the recalls.

"My kids are little so I worried that if they got sick, they could get really sick," Rosen said in a statement. "When I had my husband check the numbers on the carton, I couldn't believe we had contaminated eggs. Safeway sends me emails all the time with paperless coupons. I can't believe they wouldn't text or e-mail me with news of a recall."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does urge manufacturers and distributors -- which includes retailers and grocers -- to get the word out to consumers about recalls. Under the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the agency does now have recall power, something that previously was at the discretion of manufacturers.

"FDA believes the cooperation of manufacturers and distributors in expediting recall activities is vital because of the determination that a distributed product is potentially hazardous to the public or animals and/or is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act," the FDA said in its industry guidance.

That's where supermarkets should step in to inform their customers, the lawsuit said.

"Supermarkets and club stores account for approximately 80% of food sold in this country," the lawsuit stated. "Thus, large chain grocery stores (like Safeway) are usually the point of purchase of Recalled Products. From the information they collect under their club card programs, they have the ability to quickly and effectively identify and alert consumers that they have purchased a Recalled Product."

Safeway has more than 1,700 stores throughout the country and Canada under a variety of regional store names, including Vons, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs and the upscale grocer Genuardi's.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest details its involvement with the lawsuit here.

Here is Safeway's statement:

"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."

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