In spite of the seemingly unending cycle of product safety recalls in the U.S. that affect everything from flour to furniture, American shoppers generally regard the country’s consumer goods as safe. Owing to a long legacy of consumer advocacy by social justice activists, like Ralph Nader, many people are lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the products they rely on every day.
The truth is, consumer products simply aren’t as safe as we’d like to believe they are. Every year, thousands of Americans are injured, maimed and killed by goods certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other accreditation bodies.
These are five examples of safety recalls for products once considered beyond reproach.
When reports began emerging that Firestone tires equipped on Ford Explorers were failing at an alarmingly high rate, the companies in question dragged their feet until May 2000 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) got involved. By August of that year, Firestone had recalled 6.5 million tires in what was at the time the second largest product recall in history. In the litigation that followed, it was revealed that the tires were responsible for more than 250 deaths and 3,000 catastrophic injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that Ford and Firestone were aware of the dangers, but did nothing.
As one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs sold in the U.S., Tylenol is a trusted go-to for millions of Americans, but over the course of a few weeks in 1982, it became the focal point of a mass poisoning in Chicago straight out of a horror film. After seven people died from ingesting cyanide-laced capsules of extra-strength Tylenol that had been tampered with by parties still unknown, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson issued a nationwide recall of its acetaminophen products. Although no suspect was ever conclusively linked to the murders, it’s generally believed that the culprit purchased Tylenol from several stores in the Chicago area and added cyanide before returning them to various supermarkets. The incident led to the tamperproof seals now present on many over-the-counter medications.
Between 2008 and 2009, peanut butter tainted with salmonella caused the deaths of nine people and sickened thousands more after a contamination in a Georgia processing plant owned by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). Since PCA supplied peanuts to hundreds of companies, the contamination resulted in the largest food recall in U.S. history. The resulting criminal case found the company’s CEO guilty of a slew of felony charges including conspiracy and fraud.
When it first debuted, Merck touted Vioxx and other formulations of Rofecoxib as a revolutionary treatment option for patients suffering from osteoarthritis. Although the drug was prescribed to more than 80 million people, Merck voluntarily withdrew the drug in 2004 after new research indicated that it greatly increased the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. Subsequently, tens of thousands of patients filed suit and the drugmaker was eventually forced to pay out nearly $5 billion in settlements for not properly testing the drug before it put it on the market.
Mattel is known for creating some of the most recognizable toys on the planet. But in 2007, the company was forced to recall about 19 million of them after they were found to contain unsafe levels of lead, or small magnets that were deemed hazardous for small children. The toys had been manufactured in China and included iconic brands like Barbie and Polly Pocket. About half of the 19 million toys that were recalled had been distributed across the U.S. putting our children in danger.