“Not again!” I sighed in disgust as I read a newspaper article outlining the latest recall of millions of toys and baby gear by Fisher-Price. My youngest will be two years old soon, and for the past nine years as a parent, I’ve been amazed by the sheer number of recalls for items that should be safe for our children to play with or use. In 2007, most of my exasperated friends refused to buy any toys made in China, due to a rash of recalls of products made there, due to too much lead. On the one hand, it’s nice that we have safety systems in place in the United States to catch these dangers. On the other, it’s quite scary as a parent to not have confidence in even the most well-known brands.
As mentioned, the latest toy recall is by Fisher-Price. The toy maker said it recalled approximately 2.8 million of several types of baby play areas with inflatable balls because of problems with choking. It also recalled 125,000 toys made in Canada that had loose valves from an inflatable ball that could come off and become a choking hazard; more than seven million tricycles, because of a protruding part that had cut children who rode them; and 120,000 small car toys, whose wheels had come off, causing a choking hazard, in at least two reported cases. To be sure that you haven’t purchased any of these items, go to Mattel’s recall website.
“Geez Louise,” as my mother would say. It’s frightening to be a parent these days. Or is it? The hundreds of recalls that have taken place over the past ten years—representing billions of infant and children’s toys, food and products—proves that we have systems in place to protect children, says Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), our arm of the government charged with protecting the public from unreasonable product-related risks. “Products for children are safer than ever. We are working on new manufacturing regulations for eighteen infant products at the moment, including infant bathtubs and cribs and strollers,” she explains.
Many companies voluntarily remove products from the shelves, like the recent Similac powdered infant formula recall. Abbott, parent company of Similac, removed particular brands of the product from shelves in September 2010 when it was discovered that some might have been contaminated in production.
And for those parents who have put a moratorium on buying all Chinese-made toys, Davis says that in 2008, the CPSC helped pass the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which has “dramatically reduced the amount of lead allowed in children’s products.” She adds, “We are working closely with the Chinese, and manufacturers are listening.”
How Can Busy Parents Keep Up?
While the CPSC quickly gets faulty products off store shelves, it’s the toys and products in our homes that may cause the most damage. Davis strongly advises parents to go through their toy boxes to be sure there are no dangerous toys. This is especially important to do when visiting Grandma, as many products have been recalled since 2000. To find out whether a toy or product has been recalled, you can search the CPSC website. A CPSC smartphone application is also available; just click the “mobile” link on the site’s home page.
It’s also easy to purchase a lead-detecting stick (such as Lead Check, available at Home Depot) to carry when you travel; just swipe old trains or other painted toys with the stick, and it will turn red if lead is present. Most important, use common sense. There’s no way to protect your children from all dangers. If you think a toy or product might have been recalled, especially if you happen to receive used items from relatives or buy used furniture or car seats from resale stores, go to the CPSC website before you start using them, and research whether they’ve been recalled.
While too many recalls have taken place to list all of them, the following is a compilation of some alarming ones over the past ten years that parents should be aware of:
In 2009, the largest crib recall occurred after four infant deaths resulted from suffocation. At least 2.1 million Stork Craft drop-side cribs were recalled. These were manufactured and distributed between January 1993 and October 2009 and were sold at Sears and Walmart.
In 2007, Mattel announced the largest toy recall in history when it recalled 436,000 Chinese-made die-cast toy cars, depicting the character Sarge from the animated film Cars, because they were covered with lead paint. It also recalled 18.2 million other toys because small, powerful magnets they contained could harm children if kids swallowed them.
That same year, 1.5 million popular Thomas & Friends trains and rail components were recalled. Although they were sold by a U.S. company, they were manufactured in China and coated in lead paint, which, when ingested, can damage brain cells, especially in children.
Parents of babies got a real scare in July 2007 when Gerber recalled its Organic Rice Cereal and Organic Oatmeal Cereal after a Tampa, Florida, parent found approximately thirty hard chunks, some as long as half an inch, in the product.
Finally, in October 2010, Graco recalled two million Quattro and MetroLite brand strollers, after these models were discovered to have caused the strangulation deaths of four babies between 2003 and 2005.
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