Article: How Recalls Work to Protect You and Your Family
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Whenever you go to a store or order something online, there is a general assumption that what you’re buying is safe to use. Whether that’s a car, a toy, or a food, it’s in the best interest of both the company and the consumer that the product works as intended. However, that may not always be the case. For instance, in March 2022, there was a mass recall of baby formula manufactured from a specific region, as four infants were hospitalized due to bacterial infections after consuming baby formula that came from this manufacturer (FDA). When a product ends up being mislabeled or dangerous, then it can have dire consequences, including death in the worst-case scenarios. To try to prevent this from happening, companies will issue recalls of products found to have issues, but how does that work?
First of all, for there to even be a recall, someone has to recognize that there’s a problem. Sometimes, a company will initiate a recall because they found the problem with the product first and to try to prevent both physical and legal damage (Consumer Product Safety Commission). However, if a customer finds an issue with the product first, they can report it to a government agency. The Consumer Product Safety Commission covers most items, but different specific products fall under different agencies’ purviews (Pfeifer, Morgan, and Stesiak). For instance, when it comes to food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) split duties when it comes to investigating food products; while the FDA covers most food and drugs, the USDA covers anything that contains meat, poultry, or eggs. The Coast Guard handles any reports regarding boats, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) covers anything having to do with cars. Once any of these administrations receives a complaint (or if they happen to find an issue on their own), they conduct an investigation into the issue.
When any administration runs into a problem, they start an investigation. If any of the agencies find that the claims are warranted, then they will approach the company with a recommendation to recall the product. In most cases, the company can elect to not take the agency’s advice. The only exception is anything under the FDAs purview; as of 2011 under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA is allowed to enact mandatory recalls and shut down operations of any plant that is considered to be putting out a dangerous food product (Food Safety News). If a company decides to refuse the recommended recall, the government agency would have to sue the company for the recall. Most companies opt to recall the goods voluntarily but not always. In one high-profile case, the CPSC recommended the recall of Buckyballs, tiny toy magnetic balls (Consumerist). However, small children kept swallowing them and getting severely injured. Even though the CPSC asked for a recall, the company refused, and the agency took the company to court. The company dissolved before a verdict was found. After the company dissolved, the agency went after the owner of the company for damages, and it ended up being resolved in a settlement.
When a company executes the recall, the course of action depends a lot on the kind of product (Morgan & Morgan). For instance, for most consumer products, the firm can destroy, repurpose, or recycle their product as appropriate. The company may then offer a way to make up for the defective good such as a cash refund, replacement, or a free repair of the product (CPSC). Because there are so many types of products, it’s rare that two recalls will look exactly the same.
We normally have a lot of trust in the things we buy, but what if a product ends up being defective? Luckily, agencies like the CPSC, the FDA, and the NHTSA investigate claims to help keep people safe. If you want to see what has been recalled recently, you can head to this website here. This website contains recent recalls from all the government agencies, and you can also sign up for an email newsletter to keep up with all of the newest recalls. While products are safe most of the time, it is still a good idea to stay aware so that you can keep you and your family safe from defective goods.
Rose Smith is the blog editor of Twenty-two Twenty-eight. When she isn’t writing about the world around her, she is often found listening to music, watching movies, and going on walks with her dogs.