Club Cards Hold Consumer Habits

QFC Advantage Card
With a baby on the way, Jana Goodwin had a craving for tacos when she bought ground beef at her local supermarket last December.

Jill Crowson purchased ground beef from the same supermarket chain, QFC, and served it to her family as well.

Then, as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, they heard news reports that a cow infected with mad cow disease had been discovered in Washington State, resulting in a government recall of 10,000 pounds of beef.

"I felt very vulnerable," says Goodwin. "I felt betrayed by the store."

Only after repeated calls and letters to QFC, did the women confirm that the beef they had eaten was part of the recall.

Crowson says she would have appreciated a phone call from QFC.

"I think a simple phone call would have been the first step and probably the quickest thing," says Crowson.

And the quickest link, they say, was their QFC "advantage" card: a customer loyalty program which tracks each and every purchase a customer makes. This advantage card record shows the dates Jill purchased the potentially tainted meat along with her address and phone number and that, says attorney Steve Berman, is gross negligence.

"The technology that they created to track down their own customers and give them bonuses and savings also allowed them to potentially save their lives," says Berman.

QFC declined our request for an interview but released a statement saying they "reacted quickly and decisively to protect (our) customers." The company previously cited privacy concerns.

"They said we can't tell you because it's a privacy matter," says Berman. "Well, in all due respect, that's ridiculous."

Or is it? A CBS News poll found that even in the event of a food recall, 57 percent of cardholders would not want supermarkets to use purchase information to locate and notify customers.

Still, when it came to mad cow disease, 52 percent of cardholders polled were willing to put privacy aside.

Goodwin, who is five months pregnant, is worried about the incubation period of mad cow in humans, which could last up to 30 years.

"It is frightening, and there is a sense of uncertainty of not knowing what I potentially exposed my child to," says Goodwin.

Both women are suing QFC because they believe the "loyalty" in their advantage cards should go both ways.