What Is a Product Safety Recall?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on July 06, 2023
3 min read

A product safety recall happens when a consumer watch group or a manufacturer finds problems with a product.

Lots of items can be recalled. Some products that are commonly recalled include:

  • Food products, like meat or vegetables
  • Medication and medical devices
  • Children’s products, like safety seats
  • Car parts

If an item is recalled, you may have to throw it away, return it, or exchange it for a similar or newer product.

Although most companies create specific quality control procedures to either prevent or lessen the chance of a recall, they can happen.

Product safety recalls are mainly used to protect people. Usually, a recall happens because someone finds out that the item could hurt someone or make them sick, or has already has.

It could also be an issue that affects how the item is supposed to work or it might be one that creates legal problems for the makers.

If an item you have is recalled, your next move depends on the type of product and the instructions put out by the government agency or manufacturer.

Usually the company that makes the product or a government agency will announce the product recall and encourage people who have that item to take action.

For example, some recalls will let you know that you need to throw the item out. Others prevent the company from selling any more of that product. Or, you might have to send the product back to the manufacturer so they can either repair or replace it.

Recall notices will include useful information like:

  • What the product is called
  • The product’s model number
  • A picture of what the product looks like
  • The reason it was recalled

A food recall can happen if the food is mislabeled or if it might be contaminated. Food recalls are often announced on local or national news outlets.

If you have a food product that’s been recalled:

  • Don’t panic. Food product recalls usually aren’t connected to an outbreak of foodborne illness. Lots of recalls happen as a preventative measure because there’s a chance the food could be contaminated.
  • Don’t open the package or eat the food. You may not be able to taste, see, or smell if it’s contaminated. Don’t eat the item, even if you think the recall was a precaution. Don’t give the food product to anyone else, including pets. Don’t donate recalled items to a food bank.
  • Do check the recall announcement. The notice will tell you what to do with the item, like returning it for a refund or throwing it away.

Medication product recalls happen for different reasons. Some drugs are recalled because doctors discovered a dangerous side effect. Other times, the way the medication was made isn’t up to par. Lots of drug recalls happen because of minor issues, such as changing the wording on a patient information pamphlet or medication label.

If you have a medication that has been recalled:

  • Don’t panic. Drug recalls are common, especially with generic drugs, since there are more of them.
  • Don’t stop taking the medication. Take your medicine as usual until you talk to your doctor.
  • Call your doctor or pharmacist ASAP. Ask them about the recall. The doctor might tell you to keep taking the medication or suggest you return it to the pharmacy. They may recommend you try a similar drug.

Before you buy an item, especially if it’s for a child, make sure the company that created it hasn’t recalled it. You can find updated information about recalls on official websites, such as:

  • FDA.gov, for things like cosmetics, medications, medical devices, pet food, and nonmeat items (like fruits, veggies, and baby formula)
  • FSIS.USDA.gov, for processed egg and meat recalls
  • Recalls.gov, for product recalls from federal agencies.
  • Safercar.gov, for safety information about cars and car equipment, like children’s car seats

If you think a product is unsafe, report it online to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can also search through unsafe products.