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What Is a Recall?

babies playing with toys

We hear about recalls so often, but the term itself can be a bit confusing.

So, what is a recall? It's the notification that a product poses a potential hazard and either needs to be removed from use, have its use limited, requires a replacement part, requires repair or otherwise has to have the safety issue addressed.

A recall can begin a number of ways, but often follows a complaint from a consumer (or many consumers) who has experienced a problem. That complaint typically is lodged with the manufacturer, although thousands of complaints are filed with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); and starting in 2011 a database of the consumer complaints became available for searching on the SaferProducts.gov website.

Companies are obligated under federal law to report a potential product defect or hazard to the CPSC. The CPSC then determines whether the problem requires notification of the public.

If it does, the agency then negotiates with the company about how to resolve the matter, and whether the product needs to be removed from homes, repaired, or provide a warning about its use. Depending on the company and the situation, the process can drag out for weeks, even months. In theory, the greater the risk, the quicker the recall moves. But this process involves lawyers and lines of products and therefore can cost tens of millions of dollars.

"If CPSC has taken the action to recall a product, it means [the product] presents a real risk of injury or harm," says Nancy Cowles, executive director of the safety advocacy group Kids In Danger. "If you miss the recall when it is first announced, in all likelihood, that product, with its dangers, will remain in use for many years."

It is rare for the government to recall a product on its own, although it can when a company won't come to an agreement with CPSC or if the company has gone out of business.

Typically, when you hear about a recall, it is an announcement from the agency of the agreed-upon terms.

Recalls can start in other ways. Sometimes a company will discover a problem on its own. The most responsible companies report an issue immediately, when no injuries or incidents were involved.

Product Recalls: What to Do
Product Recalls: What to Do

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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