Depending on state and local regulations the process leading to the recall of a product varies widely. Concerned consumers should always look to the official FDA and Product Recall websites for the most updated information. However, this is a standardized process by which the federal government issues its recalls when a product is found to have a dangerous defect or food is found to pose a health risk. For instance, when salad products become contaminated with E Coli the manufacturers are required to pull the bags off grocery store shelves immediately. Furthermore, the manufacturer is required to issue a recall for those consumers who already purchased the tainted product.
Companies taking these actions in a timely manner ensure that as few consumers as possible will suffer any health risks related to consumption of the contaminated items. Consumers place their trust in the companies who place products on store shelves, purchasing them with the reasonable intention that they will work as described. When it comes to food, the trust we instill in manufacturers should not be taken lightly. Consumers purchase food with the trust that it will nourish their body, not cause what can sometimes be life-threatening health complications.
Regardless of the reason a product is recalled, many companies are loathe to issue a recall until the very last minute. This is due in part to a company's stock and the negative effect the admission that an unsafe product was shipped to consumers will have on the bottom line. Companies tend to place profits over people, and a recall can cause mass panic, abandonment of the company's other items out of fear, and lawsuits filed against them if the product caused harm or death after use.
Banned vs. Voluntary
There are certain recalls that may outright ban the sale of an item, and some recalls that allow the consumer to voluntarily bring the item back to the store where it was purchased for a refund. These recalls differ greatly and are based on the risk the item poses to the consumer. Companies may warn consumers to throw out a food item that "might be" contaminated, but in the case of a defective automobile, it will be strongly advised that the consumer bring the vehicle to the dealership (or wherever the company has determined suitable) for inspection and repair, if possible.
Your quick recall checklist
Here are some of the most important facts consumers need to know when it comes to product recalls. The Shaked Law Blog prides itself on providing our readers the most accurate and unbiased facts available online–from the perspective of lawyers who understand the nuances that go into upholding the law.
- Voluntary recall: The standard form of recall and what most are referred to. This term can be confusing for consumers who are unfamiliar with government regulations (the average shopper who buys a product with the idea that it will work as described). Categorizing a recall as "voluntary" sounds to most people as if it's optional to return the product for a refund. However this is not the case. "Voluntary" is the term the federal government uses when dealing with product manufacturers who readily agree to pull their product off the shelf until a time it can be deemed safe again.
- Banned items: When a recall bans the sale of an item, this item was deemed to have posed such a risk to public safety that it will not be allowed on shelves for an indefinite amount of time. A ban requires stores to remove the product from shelves immediately and cease sale of the item until such a time that federal government regulations are met for the product.
- Brand Recognition: this term is used to define how well the public identifies with a certain brand. The level of trust instilled in companies with "brand recognition" is most likely greater than the trust instilled, initially, in companies who are new to the public eye. Companies must work for years to obtain a level of brand recognition that can sell their products successfully and consistently. This includes a consistent sale of safe, effective products that act as expected with reasonable use.
- Consumer liability: this definition can be confusing for some. This legal theory is applied to ensure that consumers cannot hold the manufacturer liable in the event that they used the product inappropriately and thus suffered injury or health complications as a result.
- Product liability: this applies to the idea that the consumer used the product only for its manufactured use and did not modify the product in such a way that it could be considered dangerous. In the event the product was used as directed or the food item was consumed (cooked or prepared as well) the way it was intended, and harm still came to the consumer after use or consumption, the manufacturer would then be liable for any damages incurred as a result.
- Production rate: the amount of time it takes to produce a good or "unit". Occasionally companies will rush to mass produce a product that required more time to ensure its safety. This can lead to product recalls down the line.
Awareness of Defect in product recalls
The seller and the manufacturer have a claim of defense against “strict liability” that should be important to the informed consumer. If a consumer has owned the product for an extended period of time despite a recall being issued, they may not be able to file a claim of strict liability against the manufacturer. The "reasonable" thing to do when a product recall is issued is to return the product to the appropriate location listed within the official recall notice.
This Awareness of Defect theory is due in part to the fact the consumer was made aware of the defect or health hazard and continued to use or consume the product regardless of this knowledge. If a consumer uses the product indefinitely and are then injured because of their continued use of the product, they may have forfeited the right to obtain compensation. Consumers should always consult legal experts in the event they were harmed by a product or consumed food that was then officially recalled.
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