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Release Date: 01/04/2011

Only One-Fifth of Americans Are Aware They Purchased a Recalled Product

CR Feb '11 CoverYONKERS, NY — A new Consumer Reports poll finds that only one-fifth of U.S. adults were aware of having purchased food, medication, or a product (other than a car) that was recalled in the past three years.

The nationally representative survey, conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center found that half of Americans were not confident that manufacturers and retailers shared safety information with government agencies and two-fifths lacked confidence that manufacturers and retailers provided consumers with appropriate product recall information.

Full survey results appear in the February issue of Consumer Reports on sale January 4th. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Of the 20 percent of the population who believe they purchased a recalled product, nearly 40 percent responded that it was for food, almost 40 percent for a medication, and 24 percent for a product.
  • Less than one quarter of Americans researched a product they purchased to see if it was recalled.
  • More than half of Americans said they never or rarely filled out the registration cards that come with products.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 124.7 million products were recalled last year and overall, recalled products were associated with 26 deaths. Tens of millions of children each year are needlessly exposed to unsafe products, toys, and foods that have been recalled.

“Time and time again we’ve seen incidents of recalled products including bassinets, window blind cords and toys, killing or injuring children,” said Don Mays, senior director, product safety, Consumer Reports.  “Among the most effective steps to protect yourself is to get your name on manufacturer’s recall contact lists so that you can be notified when something you purchased is recalled. You can do that by mailing in product registration cards that come with many products or registering online. ”

Many miss out

Regardless of their skepticism regarding the sources of safety information, a large majority of US adults felt that it was extremely important that consumers receive appropriate recall notices for medications and food. They appeared to be less concerned with notices connected to clothing and sporting equipment recalls. However, when it comes to recalls of children’s sporting equipment, people were nearly as concerned that parents get accurate safety information, as they were for children’s food and medication recalls.

While only 20 percent of US consumers were concerned that they personally missed a recall announcement in the past 3 years, some groups were more concerned than others. For example, concern appears to decrease with age. More than a quarter of 18 to 24 year old consumers were concerned they missed a product recall notice. This compares to less than a sixth of all consumers 65 years old and older. Parents of school and/or pre-school age children were also slightly more apt to be worried about missing such announcements than were other adults (26% vs. 19%).

Consumers were more likely to find out about product recalls from the news than any other source. Nearly two-thirds of those consumers who had experienced a recent food recall and a slight majority of those who purchased a recalled medication found out about the recall from a news report. Finding out about product recalls was somewhat more varied. While a plurality of those who purchased a recalled product were informed of the recall via the news, a sixth found out about the recall from the manufacturer and a little more than a tenth from family, friends or coworkers.

Recall Analysis

Consumer Reports analyzed all recalls publicly announced by the CPSC in its 2010 fiscal year which ran from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010. Other information was collected from the recalls database on the CPSC’s website. Here are some highlights.

  • Fisher-Price had the most recalls; five notices involved 11.38 million products. Various toys and high chairs were included.
  • The largest single recall involved McDonald’s Shrek-themed glasses with decals containing cadmium. Twelve million glasses were recalled.
  • Items intended for children represented 73 percent of recalled products. There were 177 recalls of children’s products amounting to 54.2 million items.
  • Strangulation was the hazard most often associated with the recalled products. That danger was common to all recalls of corded window coverings and of children’s outerwear with drawstrings.

The Consumer Reports Product Recalls survey is based on a nationally representative sample of American adults, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. A total of 2,005 landline and cellular random digit dial (RDD) telephone interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between August 19 and August 29, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 2.6 points at a 95% confidence level.

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