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CSPI Threatens Safeway with Shopper Card Lawsuit

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC non-profit focused on nutrition and food safety, told Safeway Tuesday it will sue the grocery chain unless it agrees to start using shopper card data to relay critical food recall information to consumers.

As Food Safety News reported in March, supermarket shopper cards have been used in the past, both for epidemiologic investigations and for alerting consumers of recalled food. Shopper card data was a key tool used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in unwinding the multistate Salmonella outbreak eventually tied to Daniele Salami.  

In a letter to Safeway president Steven Burd, CSPI said it will file a lawsuit on behalf of Safeway’s customers if the company doesn’t alert Club Card holders when potentially dangerous Class 1 recalls involve products sold by the chain.

“The lawsuit will allege that Safeway sold defective and dangerous Recalled Products, and then failed to tell its Customers who bought the product,” reads the letter.

“Many other leading retailers do use customer contact information generated by their bonus card programs to notify consumers when they’ve purchased recalled food,” said CSPI in a statement yesterday.  “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,” continues the letter.  “Even though that outbreak sickened hundreds and claimed nine lives, Safeway did not contact its Club Card shoppers during that or any other recall.”

“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, in the CSPI release. “Perhaps Safeway saves a few pennies by remaining silent. But why would you knowingly risk letting your customers fall ill, or worse, die?”

According to CSPI, 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.

In the letter, CSPI says it will forestall filing suit if it can obtain Safeway’s agreement to inform all customers who bought recalled products by (1) posting a warning online at Safeway.com, (2) posting signs in the stores that sold Recalled Products, and (3) immediately contacting each Customer–by telephone, letter, and (when possible) email, and text messaging–to advise them not to consume the product and offering a full refund of the amount paid for the product.

The letter to Safeway, Inc can be found here.  

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