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Do consumers know enough about food recalls of risky products? | #socialmedia | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker



Being a consumer is occasionally a risky business. Who didn’t shudder to learn listeria might contaminate a favorite food or that a baby was hurt in an infant glider?

Families buy millions of different products every year and a few hundred wind up being recalled because of defective design, labeling, packaging or contamination. Statistically, it’s a very small share overall, but sometimes missing a recall can be life-altering.

Scroll through the list of recalls just for the first week of July on the Consumer Product Safety Commission page and you’ll find a child’s dresser that could tip over if it’s not anchored to the wall, an expresso machine that could burn users, a generator that may overheat, a children’s robe that doesn’t meet flammability standards, a mirror with glue that might not keep it from crashing down and a liquid nicotine product a curious child might open because the packaging is insufficiently tricky.

The Food and Drug Administration safety alerts page that same week includes a chicken salad sandwich that may be contaminated by listeria, an injectable medication that might contain particulate matter and hand sanitizer that might be mistaken for a beverage because of the container design. FDA handles recalls of medications, supplements, food and cosmetics.

Those recalls don’t include what one might find by plugging a vehicle identification number into the National Highway Traffic Administration’s recall page to see if there’s an issue with the family car or truck.

Experts say the heavy lift that government agencies, manufacturers and retailers make to publicize recalls still leaves many consumers unaware. But they have some responsibility to stay abreast of risks. Still, if most product recalls don’t make the news or circulate widely on social media, how are people supposed to find out?

The Deseret News asked a spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency that oversees the vast majority of recalls, and an academic who studies recalls to learn how consumers can protect themselves and others when products are flawed.

The ongoing stream of recalls means there’s a lot to check and double-check, according to the researcher, Kaitlin D. Wowak, an associate professor at University of Notre Dame. One of her big interests is how businesses decide what to do about recalling a problematic product.

Bottom line and reputation

The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses every tool it can think of to inform consumers about recalls: a hotline (1-800-638-2772), press releases issued jointly with the company whose product is being recalled, email blasts to media and group email lists like Listserv, recall webpage saferproducts.gov for information or to sign up for notices, social media announcements, a downloadable recall app and more, said Karla Crosswhite-Chigbue, commission spokesperson. When they’re available, product registration cards make reaching the right consumers easier, she said.

Most recalls are voluntary, said Wowak, a collaboration between the commission and the company. She thinks companies sometimes act to avoid looking like they’re putting profits ahead of customers, which costs them loyalty.

Keeping customers lessens incentive “to push back on it if there could be a potential product defect,” she said. But some companies initially resist issuing a recall, which can be expensive financially and in terms of reputation.

One of the highest-profile recalls in the last year involved Peloton treadmills. The commission and Peloton initially sparred over whether recall was needed. The agency can’t simply order a recall, though it can sue to force one. And it can advise consumers not to buy the product. After initially resisting, the home exercise company in May issued a voluntary recall in response to reports a child had died, while other people and pets were injured from being pulled under Peloton’s treadmill.

This Nov. 19, 2019, file photo shows a Peloton logo on the company’s stationary bicycle in San Francisco. Peloton recalled a treadmill after one child died and 29 other children suffered from cuts, broken bones and other injuries from being pulled under the rear of the treadmill. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said May 5, 2021, that Peloton received 72 reports of adults, kids, pets or items, such as exercise balls, being pulled under the treadmill.
Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

The company and the government agency agree on the remedy in a recall, from full refunds to prorating value to simply providing a fix. The maker of a medicine bottle that’s not child-proof may issue a reconfigured cap. The agreement between Peloton and the commission included options from a full refund to installing new software and securing the treadmill’s location. Most companies would rather modify a product than take it back or fully replace it, so car and other recalls may provide a repair or part replacement.

Spreading the word

Consumers can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of recalls and figuring out how to keep on top of them. The big ones — either big companies or those that can cause grave physical harm — tend to get more media notice and circulation on social media, alerting more consumers.



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