November 12 2010|05.00 AM UTC

Erik Chang

12 of the Worst Product Recalls Ever

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“We all make mistakes.” “Nobody’s perfect.” “He/she’s only human.”

All of these sayings reflect how common it is for our plans not to work out. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to product recalls. While plenty of products have turned out to be mediocre or inferior, some have malfunctioned so severely that catastrophe and disaster ensued. Consumer deaths, CEO resignations and mind-blowing financial losses are just some of the consequences of these 12 poorly manufactured (and ultimately recalled) products.

Tylenol

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Arguably the biggest and most publicized product recall in business history involved Tylenol, whose over the counter pain relief pills killed seven people in 1982. The deaths came as a result of the pills being laced with potassium cyanide and led Johnson & Johnson to issue a nationwide recall of some 31 million bottles of Tylenol with a retail value of about $100 million.When the FBI investigated the incident, it was found that the poisoned bottles came from different factories, but the deaths all occurred in and around Chicago, suggesting that the tampering took place at the store level. The perpetrator was never charged, but a man named James W. Lewis was caught trying to extort money out of Johnson & Johnson to “stop the cyanide-induced murders”, according to Wikipedia. Lewis served 13 years in prison on the extortion charges, but was released in 1995 on parole and now lives freely in Massachusetts.

Firestone Tires

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While Johnson & Johnson can be excused from personal blame, Firestone and Ford bear total responsibility for the carnage and destruction that led to a massive recall of Firestone tires in 2000. Upon being informed that several models of 15″ Firestone tires on Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers had extremely high failure rates, Ford engineers evidently recommended several safety changes and improvements that were not implemented by either company. All of the alleged problems centered around tread separation, whereby the tire’s treads rapidly frayed away leading to the total disintegration of the tire – sometimes while the car was in motion. Some 200 deaths and 3,000 major injuries resulted from the catastrophic tire failures, which also preceded then Ford CEO Jacques Nasser’s resignation.

Yo Yo Ball

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The Yo Yo Ball, a once-popular kids toy, had to be recalled in 2003 following what Yahoo Canada calls “at least 410 reports of near-strangulation of young children.” The toy’s stretchy cord proved excessively dangerous to younger children who unknowingly wrapped it around their throats, and Consumer Reports notes at least 16 complaints of kids losing consciousness as a result of Yo Yo Ball-induced accidents. When a little girl strangled herself during a Yo Yo ball trick known as “The Helicopter” (swinging the ball over one’s head), governments had seen enough. The prevalence of such problems led countries like Canada and the UK to institute outright bans of the Yo Yo Ball in 2003, which has plummeted in popularity ever since. Canada’s health department in particular recalled over 2,000 of the toys before its ban went into effect.

Dell Notebook Batteries

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Gizmodo was on to something when it reported on a Dell laptop bursting into flames at a technical conference in Japan in June, 2006. What must have seemed at the time like a freak occurrence turned out to be a systemic flaw with over four million Dell notebook batteries produced by Sony. The lithium ion batteries were prone to excessive overheating, posing a fire hazard that at least six people reported before Sony mandated a worldwide recall of the defective batteries, which were used in Dell’s Latitude, Inspiron, Precision and XPS models. To its credit, Dell exchanged the hazardous batteries with new ones, often supplying consumers with brand new machines in its place.

Worcestershire Sauce

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Many of us enjoy adding a little spice to our meals, but UK residents took a lot of risk in doing so between 2005-2007. A lengthy investigation found that a Worcestershire sauce manufactured Premier Foods had been contaminated with a carcinogenic dye known as Sudan 1. The contamination was linked back to adulterated chili powder, and the resulting products were used in everything from pizzas to ready-made meals sold on supermarket shelves. Fear of the contamination and its risks prompted the removal of over 400 suspected products from shelves. Remarking on the financial loss to manufacturers and retailers, FoodNavigator.com contends that “the figure is certain to run into double digit millions.” Interestingly, the Sundanese government has demanded that the deadly dye have its name changed, presumably to deflect attention away from where it is produced.

Cadbury-Schweppes

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UK based Cadbury-Schweppes was forced to recall over a million chocolate bars in 2006 after a widespread food scare involving Salmonella poisoning in the UK and Ireland. According to RedOrbit, the company only recalled the chocolate after months of criticism of the company’s decision to delay informing authorities about the Salmonella problem for five months. The biggest scare at the time involved Easter eggs, which may or may not have been contaminated before kids got a chance to eat them. While this fear turned out to be premature, the sluggish pace at which Schweppes responded to the potential problem was troubling to say the least.

Peanut Butter

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One of the most far-reaching food recalls in US history came in 2009, when Peanut Corporation of America recalled bulk peanut butter products for fear of Salmonella contamination. In total, the Food & Drug Administration eventually recalled at least 3913 different products from roughly 361 different companies companies, including such popular snacks as Little Debbie crackers. According to MSNBC, at least six deaths were blamed on the outbreak, along with some 470 people who became ill in 43 different states, the most common symptoms being “diarrhea, cramping and fever.” Cries for food safety reform were heard far and wide following the recall, and it remains to be seen whether any changes occur.

Pistachios

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Barely two months had passed following the peanut butter recall, California-based Setton Pistachio opted to recall its entire 2008 crop of pistachios due to Salmonella fears. The company can be credited with getting out in front of the issue before it became a major problem, acting as soon as it discovered “several types of salmonella during routine analysis of the product”, according to the New York Times. While the infection was said to be unrelated to the peanut butter scare, Setton’s executives no doubt realized that consumers were in no mood to take risks and likely opted to initiate the recall as a proactive buffer against lawsuits and criticism.

Nestle Toll House Cookies

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Not every food product recall involves salmonella. The Nestle Toll House cookie recall of 2009, for example, arose from scares of an E. coli contamination that made several consumers ill after eating the dough in its raw, uncooked state. Fears of a more widespread contamination prompted Nestle to recall 300,000 packages of the controversial cookies after the Wall Street Journal revealed a total of 65 reported illnesses. At least 25 people were hospitalized in connection with eating the poisoned cookies, “, including seven with a severe complication that can cause kidney failure” according to the Wall Street Journal’s report.

Westland/Hallmark Beef

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Food processor Westland/Hallmark was forced in 2008 to recall over 143 million pounds of beef after the USDA deemed it unfit for human consumption, according to Bloomberg. While there were no reported illnesses (and it was later concluded that no illnesses were likely), the beef was nevertheless recalled because cattle had failed to be inspected before the resulting beef was shipped to school cafeterias and supermarkets. The recall was a major blow to the company, with as many as 150 school districts ceasing to purchase any beef from Hallmark in what is now acknowledged as the largest beef recall in US history.

Chocolate Worms

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South Korean and Chinese chocolate lovers were in for a rude awakening when they discovered what LiveLeak terms “little white worms” inside of designer chocolate in August, 2007. A video at LiveLeak.com shows the worms being found in real chocolates by simply unwrapping them and breaking the candies apart – a nauseating sight to say the least. What’s worse, the chocolates were actually counterfeits of a popular brand, and the worms were actually larvae of a common moth. Chinese businesses feared that the worm scandal would lead to a weakening of the already questioned “made in China” brand.

Mattel Toys

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About 9 million toys were recalled by Mattel in 2007 amidst dangers from lead paint and magnets, according to MSNBC. Chinese-made toys (including such popular mainstays as Barbie, Polly Pocket and items from the movie “Cars”) were at the center of the recall, which arose when it was revealed that deadly and illegal lead paint had been used. The magnets also created controversy because of their small size and the ease with which they could be swallowed. This recall came just two weeks after an earlier one of about 1.5 million Fisher-Price infant toys, also because of lead paint scares. At least one child died from problems with the toys and 19 others required surgery after swallowing magnets since 2003. Chalk it up to another embarrassing black eye for Chinese manufacturers during the 2000′s.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron October 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Hey,

Good points, but I don’t think the article was solely about poorly handled recalls. The intro alludes to the failures of a product itself, not just whether the recall was badly done.In fact, looking at it now the entire intro paragraph is product-focused. So I guess it’s more about why the recall had to take place at all.

Reply

Pip November 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

Long Long ago, in my home town of Yeovil, UK, I remember fields being used for a massive recall of cars.

The Lancia Beta had a serious subframe rust problem, which lead to a ‘voluntary assessment’ being offered to Lancia owners, it soon became clear that the majority of these cars were seriously flawed.
The following clip (with embarrassingly posh accents by the presenters) was filmed just before the mass deluge.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjgHSqdY5nQ

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Kassy2Swift March 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

I miss the yoyo balls,so squishy and fun toplay with. The “Helicopther” was my favorite trick!

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