Savvy consumers keep up with product recalls

Remember the big bag of bad berries?Berries

I vividly remember spotting the purple bag in the Costco freezer and thinking, “Hey, this would be great for smoothies!” Did I buy it? You bet, and months later, it was recalled after being linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A.

The berry recall quickly had people across the nation worried and asking questions. I soon learned that everyone and their aunty either had bought a bag, knew someone who did, or remembered seeing it in the Costco freezer.

So let’s put product recalls in perspective. Sometimes a government-regulated product is found to be defective or potentially harmful. A recall of that product is then issued (usually by the manufacturer) to remove the product from the market or correct the problem.

So what products are regulated by the government? It’s really almost anything you buy in a lifetime – toys, food, baby equipment, appliances, drugs, clothes, exercise and sports equipment, and cars to name a few.

I was curious to learn exactly how many products are recalled annually. I started my search at saferproducts.gov, a database maintained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. I searched for recalls issued in the past 12 months and came up with 313 results.

recallsThen I went on the website for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and found a press release that said more than 650 safety recalls (affecting more than 17.8 million vehicles, child seats and vehicle equipment) were issued in 2012.

I didn’t even check on drug and food recalls, but I suspect the numbers are fairly high there, too.

So yeah, I’d say your chances are pretty good that you will buy at least one product in your lifetime that will later be recalled.

What can we, as careful consumers, do to learn about product recalls that may affect us? Luckily, part of the job is done since businesses can track some purchases back to us, such as cars, appliances, medications and, apparently, what we buy from membership-only retailers like Costco. During the berry recall, Costco reportedly contacted members who purchased the berry mix.

The government has also a convenient website, www.recalls.gov that puts recall information from various agencies in one place. You can sign up for email notifications or download a mobile app. Unfortunately, customization is limited. You may receive recall notices in categories that aren’t as relevant to you.

The other thing you can do is just keep your ears and eyes open to news media and social media. Often the more serious or prevalent recalls are reported on the news. I once came across an FDA report about a cereal recall. It was a popular cereal, so I posted it on Facebook. Almost right away, two of my Facebook buddies replied that they had a box or two and thanked me for the post.

Being a wise consumer doesn’t mean you should be paranoid about recalls, though. It’s not worth the stress or getting bogged down trying to track down all those notices. Just be educated (now that you’ve read this blog, you are!) and alert to what’s going on around you.

So what happened to me and my tainted berries? Luckily, it was still unopened, mostly because I just forgot it was in my freezer. I’m embarrassed to say this, but my bag might even have been older than the recalled batch, which may be why Costco never contacted me. In any case, when news of the recall hit, my husband threw out the bag faster than you can say “now where did I put the blender?”

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