Interested in really freaking yourself out? Check out the news on recalls and safety alerts for foods and products, at your local government website. “Imitation meat products recalled due to undeclared egg.” We’re not sure what that means, and we’re pretty sure we don’t want to – safe to say, imitation meat is now off the grocery list. Product recalls are part of business. When quantity, consumption and profits take hold so do oversights, short-sightedness, slapdash manufacturing and all around gigantic mistakes.
The biggest toy company in the world, Mattel, has had to recall nearly 19 million of their toys to date because of lead-based paint from Chinese-made products. Last year, millions of products were yanked off shelves, from just under a million Cryofreeze ice/hot packs, to 4,000,000 Bumbo baby seats. But the really shocking numbers come from the auto industry; according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the US auto market is set to break the record for recalls this year. Last year a jaw-dropping 22 million cars were recalled and the largest chunk, at five million vehicle recalls, was issued by Toyota. Their host of issues included software glitches and potentially faulty airbags. Now, less than halfway through 2014, the number of recalls in total in the national industry is already about half that, at 11 million. Recently GM recalled 2.7 million of their cars for brake light, headlamp and power brake issues.
It’s a scary world out there where we place our trust in brand names. If history is anything to go by then we’ll be hearing of many more traumatizing alerts and recalls in 2014, but here we’re taking a look back over the years at some of the biggest product recalls to date.
10. China’s Milk – 700 Tons Recalled
In 2008 the largest provider of powdered milk in China recalled several hundred tons of baby formula after kidney problems and even death resulted from infant consumption. Turns out that Melamine was the culprit: it’s a chemical used in the making of plastic and had been added to the formula as a cheap way to increase protein values.
9. Simplicity Cribs – 2 Million Recalls
Almost half a million drop-side cribs were recalled in 2009 when an infant in Houston, TX, horrifically died by suffocation. The beds design flaw made it possible for children to fall and be trapped between the mattress and the detachable side. This was the second recall for cribs, as a year earlier the company recalled 600,000 and a million in 2007. Despite the recalls this company did a very poor job of learning from their mistakes and though hardware was upgraded, the same problem continued to recur.
8. Dell Laptops – 4 Million Recalls
Dell laptops posed a fire threat from excessive overheating in 2006 after a lithium-ion battery from Sony proved too hot to handle. Four million computers were recalled with a combined estimated expense of $400 million to the companies. In “cooperation” with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, Dell provided customers affected with free replacements.
7.Brigade/Firestone tires – 6.5 Million Recalls
While the world didn’t end in the year 2000, it might as well have for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc, when they were forced to recall 6.5 million tires in one of the most dangerous product mistakes in auto history. The tendency for these tires’ failure caused 175 deaths and several hundred injuries. Certain tire models had treads that would literally peel off and cause a blowout.
6. Ford – 14 Million Vehicles Recalled
After recalling 1.5 million Pintos in the ’70s (when it was found a rear-end collision could cause the car to burst into flames) Ford was back on the recall map again in 2009 and bigger than ever. They were behind the largest single recall in auto history, when a faulty cruise-control switch gave way to fire hazards. The switches tended to overheat, at which point they’d begin to smoke or worse, catch fire. And this could happen hours after a vehicle had been left in park. It wasn’t the only issue – in some Ford models, the cruise-control had a chance of melting down and seeping into the anti-lock brake system.
5. Tylenol – 31 Million Items Recalled
Probably one of the most famous recalls on the list was the Tylenol recall of 1982, after bottles of Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol were found to have been laced with potassium cyanide and killed several people in the Chicago area. The company recalled over 30 million bottles, spending an average of $100 million to ensure another death did not occur, and eventually relaunched the product. It was determined that the cyanide was not introduced during manufacturing, but by a criminal tampering with products on store shelves. The case remains unsolved.
4. Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company – 37 Million Pounds Recalled
2008 was not a good year for the Department of Agriculture, which had to recall 143 million pounds of beef after it was brought to light that California slaughterhouse Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company had been improperly butchering cattle. They were eventually investigated for animal abuse, and went bankrupt from the costs of recalls and the litigations. It was the largest meat recall in history and ranged from meat sold between 2006-2008. At the point of recall, 37 million pounds had been shipped out for the National School Lunch Program. Rather miraculously, no injuries or illnesses were ever reported.
3. Premier Foods – $145 Million Worth of Recalls
When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not. In 2003, U.K.’s Food Standards Agency recalled over 500 separate products that included Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing, due to contamination from a carcinogenic dye in the chili powder called Sudan 1. The dye has proven to cause cancer in rats, and the UK government faced criticism after the fact, for taking so long to order all products off the shelves. The cost of the recall was around $145 million.
2. Peanut Corp of America – 1 Billion Items Recalled
Another massive food recall in US history comes from Peanut Corp of America in 2009. Roughly 3,913 products from over 350 different companies were affected by shipments of tainted peanut butter and salmonella fears. The company folded shortly after, while the recall cost American peanut producers about $1 billion in lost production and sales.
1. Merck’s Vioxx – 2.5 Billion Items Recalled
This pharmaceutical giant recalled its global stock of the arthritis drug Vioxx, in 2004. The drug, which had brought in $2.5 billion in sales the previous year, had apparently heightened the risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients during a study of its side effects. Merck stated the recall was a precautionary measure, but not precautionary enough – it cost the company $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits resulting in subsequent injuries and death by users.