There are two big issues with product safety:
First, when products are recalled, the system for notifying consumers who may have purchased the item isn’t good.
And second, while companies test many products they sell to consumers, and while regulators try to make sure products are safe, the vast majority of consumer products don’t have mandatory safety standards.
Here are some ways to find out about recalls and maybe even avoid buying an inferior product to begin with.
- With your appliances, electronics, toys or other items used by children, and with any other category of products where recalls are common, search periodically for recalls involving your possessions on cpsc.gov/recalls and search for complaints on saferproducts.gov. Recalls get posted on cpsc.gov/recalls generally every Thursday morning. There are about a half-dozen each week. It takes less than a minute to scroll through the list if you do it weekly.
- The government logs lists of various types of recalls online. Besides CPSC recalls, see recalls.gov for recalls across other agencies involving food, medicine, vehicles and more.
- Fill out online or mail-in registrations that come with products, especially anything that plugs in, has a battery or is used by children. At least provide a secondary email address, if you’re concerned they’ll share your information. Then companies can contact you in case of safety warnings.
- Use extra caution when buying from resale websites. It’s illegal for any business to sell recalled products but online marketplaces often do. Individual consumers offering products for sale may not know an item has been recalled.
- Use even more caution when buying products being shipped from overseas or from websites that seem unprofessional. International sellers may not comply with U.S. safety standards, and unethical sellers may peddle all sorts of previously recalled or unsafe merchandise.
- If you’re considering buying a product, especially an expensive purchase, an item for a child or something that plugs in or runs off a rechargeable battery, check for recalls on cpsc.gov/recalls and check for complaints on saferproducts.gov.
- If you experience an issue with a product and want to warn other consumers and report it to regulators, you can file a report at saferproducts.gov
Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.