Product Recalls Are Skyrocketing

By Richard Dahl on August 30, 2022

If it seems like you've been hearing about a lot of product recalls this year, you're not imagining things.

Companies recalled more than 1 billion product units in the U.S. by mid-August, the earliest date that milestone has been reached in a calendar year, and an all-time recall record appears certain for 2022.

Those are the findings in a quarterly product recall index compiled by the insurance company Sedgwick. The report notes that recalls only reached the 1 billion mark twice before, in 2018 and 2021, when it took far later in the year to hit that number.

Some recalls, like those for powdered infant formula and Jif peanut butter, made headlines. But after the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee called for more stringent regulation in late 2019, regulators heightened their scrutiny of every industry, and there's been a steady stream of product recalls in each.

Through the first three-and-a-half weeks of August, for instance, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued recalls for 15 products, including 124,000 units of a paddle for a stand-up paddleboard due to risks of puncture and laceration, and 28,550 units of a ridable children's toy that can tip forward and cause injury. Over that same time span, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed 18 recalled products, mostly for potential contaminations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been active, listing 689 recalls through Aug. 18. These recalls are generally vehicle components that might be faulty, such as an improperly welded airbag cover that might increase the risk of injury if the airbag deploys. Meanwhile, the emergence of autonomous vehicles promises to keep NHTSA regulators busy.

How Do Recalls Work?

We've identified the fact that recalls are happening at a record pace. So maybe now is a good time to step back and look at how the recall process works and how it affects you as a consumer.

A product recall is a process that regulators, manufacturers, and retailers use to retrieve defective or potentially unsafe products from consumers and give them compensation. It also serves to remove or limit legal liability for the manufacturer.

The agencies that oversee recalls, such as the CPSC and the FDA, maintain detailed rules and regulations. These agencies collect consumer complaints and conduct their own research. If a manufacturer is aware of a safety issue with a product, they must report it to the appropriate agency.

When the agencies see a need to recall a product, they typically provide manufacturers an opportunity to do it voluntarily. Then the agencies and the company develop a plan for corrective action. For instance, the paddleboard recall directs purchasers to contact the manufacturer to receive a free shaft sleeve. People who bought the ridable toy mentioned above may contact the manufacturer for a free attachable bar to prevent tipping.

If a company does not agree to a voluntary recall, agencies can order a mandatory recall, but they are infrequent.

Agency Lists

The agencies maintain public databases on their websites and may issue press releases themselves if they believe broader awareness is necessary.

The federal government provides a webpage containing information about recalls, including links to the agencies that regulate them.

If you believe a product is unsafe, you may report the information to the relevant agency. However, if you see that a product you own has been recalled and think you can sue the company for selling you something that is dangerous, you can probably forget it. One of the reasons companies agree to recall products is to prevent lawsuits. However, if you have been injured or gotten sick from a recalled product, you may sue based on standard products liability law.

In general, though, if you see that a product you own has been recalled, you will probably qualify for a replacement product, repairs, or a refund.

With recalls occurring at a dizzying level, it might seem hard to keep up. One good resource, however, is Shep the Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit media organization that monitors threats to consumer health, safety, and security. Shep maintains a weekly "Recall Roundup" that highlights some of the week's important actions.

Another way to keep up is to sign up for email alert services offered by four of the primary agencies that handle recalls: the CPSC, the FDA, the NHTSA, and the Department of Agriculture.

It could be worth visiting these websites and scanning their recall databases. You might own a recalled product and not even know it.

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