A federal judge has set a March hearing in a case against Safeway Inc. that seeks to force the retailer to use loyalty card information to contact customers after foods are recalled.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer flatly denies any legal obligation to notify customers of recalls in “post-sale” situations. Safeway also contends the question should have been handled by the Food and Drug Administration instead of the courts, according to its response to the complaint.

Safeway also states in court documents that it “provides reasonable notice to customers of recalled products.” The retailer has more than 1,700 stores.

Two consumers are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in February 2011 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C.

One consumer bought peanut butter snacks at a Safeway in 2008. The other bought eggs at a Safeway in 2010. Recalls were issued after the purchases because of possible pathogen contamination.

Even though the case does not involve consumers who bought fresh produce, the outcome could affect all suppliers who work with Safeway, as well as the retailer itself.

The center’s complaint states repeatedly that forcing Safeway to use loyalty card information to notify customers by phone, mail and e-mail “will cost Safeway nothing because Safeway’s suppliers agree to reimburse all costs associated with notice and refunds” in recall situations.

Safeway and CSPI have requested a jury trial, but before setting a schedule Judge Richard Seeborg told the parties he needed to consider whether there is actually a case to try.

“… One of the big issues in the case seems to be the merits of the question. And, whether or not Safeway had any duty to either communicate, by e-mail or phone, notice of food recalls,” Judge Seeborg said during a September hearing, according to a court transcript.

He set a March 27 hearing to consider whether the case will proceed.