2020 Holiday Toys May Not Have Been Safety-Inspected—Here's What Parents Need to Know

Were this year’s toys safety-inspected? The short answer is, not as much as usual due to COVID-related cutbacks in government personnel. But that doesn’t mean there were no safety rules in place.

Hand pushing vintage toy convertible car
Photo: Getty Images

When toys arrive in the United States—because most of our toys are made abroad and come over in container ships—they are traditionally spot-checked at the ports. A report in USA Today recently revealed, due to the pandemic, fewer inspectors were on guard for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) during the spring and summer months, when many of the holiday toys arrived.

The report is disturbing, and finds:

The CPSC did not flag a single toy at the ports between June and July for poisonous lead levels, one of the most frequent violations, internal records show. In August, port inspectors reported their total monthly activity amounted to 47 screenings for all hazards—less than 2 percent of a typical month before the pandemic hit.

The CPSC, however, maintains that while personnel could not safely work all of the major ports during the months they spent securing protective gear, samples from incoming shipments were sent to inspectors’ homes for examination. The CPSC also says that their inspection force has beefed back up since the busy summer season. But that mostly only makes us feel better about level of inspection they’ll be able to provide for 2021.

The Toy Industry Association released this statement:

“By law, toys sold in the U.S., regardless of where in the world they come from, must comply with and be tested and certified to over 100 strict U.S. safety standardsbefore they reach our shores, and our stores. Legitimate companies selling products in this country go above and beyond to make sure their toys are safefrom conscientious product design right through to regular testing and certification of their toys by government-approved, independent laboratories. Manufacturers provide retailers selling their products with certificates of compliance, indicating their toys have gone through the strict testing and certification process.

The Toy Association continues to educate consumers on the importance of only buying toys from known and verified brands and retailers, whether they are shopping online or offline. Consumers have every reason to trust the safety of the three billion legitimate toys sold in America each year.”

It is yet another disheartening fact of 2020 to think that our toys did not get their usual amount of port inspection, even if the vast majority of toys are safe to begin with. But of course it would be reckless to conclude that it means 2020 toys are unsafe. It unfortunately boils down to putting the onus on parents to be sure they buy safe toys. Based on the CPSC’s recommendations we suggest:

  • Buying from known, trusted retailers.
  • Not buying toys marked age 3+ if there is a child younger than 3 in your house. The CPSC says that, in 2019, most toy-related injuries and deaths were due to children choking on small parts. Any toy marked for ages 3+ or older can include small parts.
  • Skipping the scooters. Though the number of scooter-related injuries for kids younger than 15 have decreased over the past few years, it still numbers in the tens of thousands.

There have been nine toys recalled so far in 2020, compared to 12 in 2019. The top toys for the holidays have all been out for some months now without recall so we feel confident about them. But we’ll count another reason to look forward to 2021, and that’s because our toy inspection will hopefully be back in full force.

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