Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Product Recall Notifications Work


Learning about Product Recalls
Image courtesy CPSC

So, how does a consumer keep up with all of these product recalls that could be harmful or even fatal? Most people want to know as soon as possible. You can check out a manufacturer's Web site, and sometimes you'll find useful recall information there.

For instance, Ford Motor Co., which manufactures a variety of motor vehicles, has a section of its company Web site dedicated to recall information on its products. The site allows owners to enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to determine whether their vehicle has a recalled part. A VIN is a unique 17-character digit composed of numbers and letters found on a metal tag above the instrument panel or in vehicle documentation.

Alternatively, there are Web sites dedicated to consumer protection, such as Consumeraffairs.com that keep updated lists of recall categories. Boat owners may want to check out BoatU.S. for its consumer protection information and recent recalls. Even magazines are getting involved, such as Consumer Reports, which lists recalls on its Web site.

The downside to surfing Web sites is you have to keep returning to them for updated information. In addition, many manufacturers don't post information about their recalls on their Web sites because, well, it just looks bad. That's why the government's electronic notification system is so handy -- you can sign up for all notifications, or you can specify a particular type of recall. Once you've signed up, you'll receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your subscription by replying to the message. Whenever a product manufacturer or a government agency issues a recall, you'll immediately receive an alert. If you want a blanket subscription -- where you get all recall e-mails from the CPSC, FDA or USDA -- go to www.recalls.gov and type your e-mail address in the boxes shown.

To receive specific recalls, you can sign up with specific Web sites. For example, if you're interested in CPSC products, go to their Web site and enter your e-mail address. You'll receive recalls on the same day the agency receives them. You can join one or any number of its lists, including:

  • All recalls
  • Recalls involving infant/child products
  • Recalls involving products used for sports and recreation
  • Recalls involving products used outdoors
  • Recalls involving household products
  • Recalls involving specialty products

Once you've decided, click the subscribe button. Watch for an e-mail in your inbox asking you to confirm your subscription. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The FDA recall list also can be broken down into specifics. Go to the Web site and view the first category, Most Popular/Breaking News. If you want all the recalls for drugs and medical devices, dietary supplements and cosmetics as they're announced to the public, click the subscribe button to the right of the MedWatch listing. If you only want life-threatening recalls on these topics, click on the subscribe button to the right of the FDA Recalls listing. That's all there is to it.

The USDA/FSIS can also send you new information on food recalls. For open federal cases, visit its Web site and click on the envelope with the caption Receive Open Federal Cases Updates by e-mail next to it. When a new window comes up, enter your e-mail address and click the Go button. It will ask you to re-enter and confirm your e-mail address again, as well as choose your delivery preference -- immediately, daily, weekly or monthly. You can add a password, too.


More to Explore