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Need to Know

Why Are There so Many Product Recalls?

By: Karen Cicero

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I’m checking my email on my iPhone 4S (don’t you love Siri?) and click on “an important message” from Build-A-Bear Workshop. I think it has something to do with my daughter Kate’s online game account. Nope. It says that one of the stuffed animals I bought has been recalled because parts of it present a choking hazard and that I should bring it back to the store for an exchange. I look at the picture, and sure enough, I have seen that bear before … on Kate’s bed.

I’m actually trying to decide whether I should kidnap the bear and return it to the store (will she ever miss it among the pile of other teddies?) when I scroll further down my email. More bad news: Pottery Barn Kids sent me an email about the bed I bought for Kate three years ago. It says several canopies have fallen down on children and urges me to remove it immediately while I wait for replacement parts. What the heck! I think she’ll notice that the top of her bed is missing!

I appreciate getting recall notices. I really do. I don’t want my daughter playing with dangerous toys, sleeping on a hazardous bed or eating contaminated food. But, geez, why couldn’t they get it right the first time? I vent to Nychelle Fleming of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency that tracks all the nonfood recalls and advocates for stronger safety standards: “How widespread is the problem?”

Fleming shoots me off a list of the recalls for the last month: rattles (choking hazard), lunchboxes (problems with the cool gel), desk chairs and stools (lead paint), gas grills (fire hazard), even bike helmets (don’t meet standards to prevent injury). In the first three weeks of January, in fact, there were nearly 20 different types of products recalled, representing almost 1/2 million items sold. Honestly, with as much stuff as we have in our house (send me your de-clutter tips!), it’s no wonder I don’t own more recalled items. Fleming actually thinks I might. “Do you check regularly for recalls?” she asks.

I confess; I don’t. I knew about the stuffed bear and the canopy because the companies sent me emails. More and more businesses, she says, retain purchase records and alert consumers to a problem. In addition, Fleming thinks I should also fill out product information cards on items I buy. I often resist doing this -- I get plenty of junk mail already -- but she says a recent law prevents companies from doing anything else with the info except contacting you if something goes wrong. Of course, she says the CPSC also posts all the recalls on its home page, CPSC.gov. And for food recalls, you can look at Recalls.gov/Food.

The CPSC doesn’t think there will be a drop in recalls anytime soon -- standards are higher, and reporting of injuries is better than ever -- so it’s just something we’ll all have to deal with. Grrr. But at least so far in my experience, companies are trying to make things right. Kate got a cute new bear, and Pottery Barn Kids is sending a repairperson to my house to fix the hardware on the canopy. And with the millions of dollars recalls must be costing big businesses, it’s certainly in their best interest to make their products safer the first time around.

Were the products you got for your family recalled? Here’s how to know: YouTube.com

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Photo: @iStockphoto.com/sampsyseeds


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Karen Cicero

is Completely You’s Need to Know blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, SELF and Health, and she has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.

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