Worst year on record for food, product recalls

| 11/16/2007

Have you ever thought about how many products are recalled in a year’s time and where those recalled products end up after they are removed from store shelves?

Consumers Union, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, and its publication, Consumer Reports, know exactly how many recalls have been issued so far in 2007 – a total of 472 products, which averages out to be more than one recall a day, according Don Mays, senior director of product safety and planning for Consumer Reports Magazine.

Mays told Land Line on Friday, Nov. 16, that more than 20 million toys have been recalled because of lead and other hazards and that more than 30 million pounds of ground beef have been recalled because of E. coli contamination this year.

Mays said it is a little-known fact that many of these voluntarily-recalled products taken off store shelves in the United States may, in fact, wind up on the store shelves in other countries that have less stringent or no safety standards.

There are federal safety regulations on product recalled because of lead-paint contamination – they are to be destroyed, Mays said, but who knows what happens to voluntarily-recalled product removed from store shelves in the U.S.

“If, in fact, it is a toy that violates a federal safety regulation such as lead paint, they have to be destroyed – they cannot be resold anywhere,” Mays said.

“However, if it is a voluntary recall where the product violates a voluntary industry safety standard, retailers can continue to sell the product – there is no law that would prevent a retailer from selling a voluntarily-recalled product. And the other thing that can happen is that they can be shipped overseas and sold in another country.”

Mays said this has been the worst year for product recalls from several standpoints.

“Just if you look at the toy industry, you have a record number of recalls on toys and a lot of product being recalled and problems that we thought had gone away – such as lead paint – have resurfaced. The other issue is how it has tainted venerable brand names such as Fisher-Price and Mattel and Spin Master. These are company names that people have trusted and when they can’t trust those names that have been around for so many years, it’s a problem,” he said.

Many of the toys recalled this year have been because of lead paint contamination from toys manufactured in China and that many toy manufacturers simply “let their guard down” in regards to product safety, which he attributes to the increase in toy recalls this year.

“In some cases, they actually entrusted the testing of those products to the very factories that were producing them – that’s like the fox guarding the hen house,” he said.

He said Consumers Union and Consumer Reports, which has more than 6.2 million readers, are advocating for a third-party testing system, a certification system, which means that testing “isn’t done by people that have a direct financial interest in the product.”

Last week the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voluntarily recalled more than 4.2 million Aqua Dots bead craft kits because the coating on the beads contained the toxic “date rape” drug GHB, or gamma-hydroxy butyrate. Only a voluntary recall was issued, which means this product could end up on store shelves in other countries.

“I’ll bet you there was a lot of that product in transit when it was recalled – this was promised to be a big holiday gift,” Mays said. “Particularly the toy industry has really been licking their wounds from all of this bad press they are getting. Some of these recalls have been huge.

“I mean when you look at toys, there have been 10 million toys recalled because of lead alone. In many of these recalls it’s not just a couple thousand here and there – it’s in the millions.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer