You could be housing dangerous, defective or unsafe products because you either ignored a recall, aren’t aware one has been issued or the spotty recall system hasn’t gotten the word out.Household products, one of the largest categories of recalled products, are being recalled at a record pace this year and more than half the toys, clothes, appliances, tools and electronics gear subject to recalls are still in homes, according to “Trouble With Recalls,” recent research by Consumer Reports, a magazine published by Consumers Union, a respected independent consumer goods and services rater and researcher.Consumer Reports offers an online recall center and tells consumers where to go to learn more about recalls and to report defective products. Also, a new online central clearinghouse of recalls, Recalls.gov, now makes it easier for consumers to find out what products need to be sent back to their manufacturers for repair, replacements or refunds, but too often recall information simply doesn’t reach consumers who own the problem products.With no central recall authority powered to remove any problem product from market, the complex and decentralized recall system is at the mercy of different recall rules from six separate federal agencies.Recalls initiated last year by the different agencies include:
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — Food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics; 4,628.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — Vehicles, tires, child-safety seats; 529.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) — Everyday products from clothes to coffee makers; 280.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — Meat, poultry, egg products; 68.
- U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) — Boats and boating equipment; 36.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — Pesticides, car-emission systems 32 (in 2002).
In addition to the hodge podge of recalling agencies and rules, enforcement funding is short, companies are unwilling or unable to track down customers and apathetic consumers add to the morass.In interviews with manufacturers, government agencies, and consumers; phone calls to recall hotlines; and searches of corporate websites, Consumer Reports found:
- Too often, word simply doesn’t reach the owners of defective products.
- Of the 19 million cars recalled in 2002, almost one-third weren’t fixed. The fraction is larger for child car seats, appliances, and electronics.
- Some big companies that sell products that are later recalled do not post recall info online.
- Federal agencies can initiate recalls, but companies carry them out. If they balk, resolution can take months.
“For every Firestone/Ford Explorer media-fest, there are thousands of choking hazards, breaking straps, and contaminated foods that get little publicity,” Consumer Reports reported.The recall system breaks down when privacy rights and the law get in the way of a businesses trying to reach you about a recall if you’ve never registered the product.But companies don’t always make it easy to register because consumers, discouraged by the litany of marketing related questions, toss the registration forms as a potential invitation to junk mail.Also, says Consumer Reports, some companies’ websites simply lack information. Unfortunately, companies aren’t required by law to post recall information online.Even some government agencies are less helpful than others. The NHTSA, for example, offers information about ongoing investigations. Not so with the CPSC. Likewise, only serious drug recalls are widely publicized under FDA rules.Things are changing. Along with Recall.gov, the CPSC has implemented a “Fast Track” program to remove dangerous products sooner. CPSC is also implementing a program to disseminate recall information to more of the population and the government has gotten tougher on carmakers that try to hide safety defects, and on food inspections, says Consumer Reports.Still, the consumer must play a role in helping keep his or her household safe by registering products and keeping up on the latest recalls.You aren’t required by law to answer the marketing questions just to register a product for safety’s sake and you can easily opt out of unsolicited direct mail marketing