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A parent's guide to consumer recalls

What to do if your child's crib or favorite toy gets recalled.

Why children's items — like cribs or baby swings — get recalled, and what to do when that happens. (Image: Getty Images; Victoria Ellis for Yahoo News)
Why children's items — like cribs or baby swings — get recalled, and what to do when that happens. (Image: Getty Images; Victoria Ellis for Yahoo News)

Recalls happen in products and goods for everyone, ranging from cars to certain foods. But while recalls are concerning no matter who they impact, it's understandable to be especially nervous about these if you're a parent. After all, in the past few years there have been recalls on formula, cribs, strollers, pacifiers and bassinets, and some have even ended in the death of babies. This week, Jool Baby issued a recall of 63,000 infant swings sold at Walmart over concerns they pose a suffocation risk.

For all of the attention recalls get, you may be a little fuzzy on what, exactly, it means for an item to be recalled and the next steps to take. Here's what you need to know, plus expert insight into why paying attention to recall notices is so important.

What does a recall mean?

On a basic level, a recall means that there is something about a product that can harm the user, Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.

"A product recall is a request from a manufacturer to return a product that has been associated with safety issues or product defects that might endanger the consumer," Dr. Kathleen Hardart, director of pediatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester, adds. "In some cases, the government can issue the recall of a product."

Usually, it's recommended that you return the recalled item, regardless of the condition it's in, to the seller for a full refund or modification, Hardart says, noting that most recall announcements on kid's products are issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

"In a recall, companies work with CPSC to address known hazards with their products and get them out of consumers' hands by means of a refund or a free replacement product, or the firm may be offering a free repair," Patty Davis, press secretary for the CPSC, tells Yahoo Life.

What are the different types of recalls?

Recalls are typically divided into one of three categories determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • Class I: These recalls are for products that could cause serious injury or death

  • Class II: These recalls are for products that might cause serious injury or a temporary illness

  • Class III: These recalls are for products that are unlikely to cause injury or illness, but violate FDA regulations

What can I do before a recall to make the process easier?

It takes a little work on your end. "For any item that has a registration option, you should always send that in," Amy Watkins, director of Safe Kids Connecticut, tells Yahoo Life. "That allows the manufacturer to contact you directly to let you know what the issue is and what you need to do in case of a recall. Always fill that out."

Shoppers usually don't need to hold onto your receipts, though. "Occasionally, you may have to show proof of ownership, like with a photograph," Watkins says. "But people do not usually hold onto receipts and it's unrealistic to expect that they would do that."

Something I bought has been recalled. What do I need to do now?

If you discover that an item you've purchased (or have been gifted) has been recalled, it's important to follow the instructions for that particular recall. If the CPSC is involved — and they typically are — the organization will issue a recall notice with specific instructions on what to do next. It may involve returning the item, throwing it out or requesting a part that can make the product safe to use again, Watkins says.

My item seems fine. Do I have to get rid of it?

Yes. Experts say this is a big issue. "If something has been recalled, you really need to follow the recall instructions — there's a reason why it was recalled," Posner says. "They don't recall things lightly."

Posner cites the once-popular Fisher Price Rock 'n Play sleeper as an example. "It took a bunch of babies dying in the Rock 'n Play before it was recalled," she says. "It's not like one child died and they said, 'OK, we're recalling it.'"

Hardart acknowledges that it can be hard to give up a recalled item that you've come to rely on, especially if it seems fine to you. "Remember: Even though you’ve been lucky and have not experienced the problem compelling the recall, you should not continue to use the recalled item," she says. "Return the product and find an alternative that has not been associated with injury."

Other reminders

It's common to pick up used baby products at yard sales, and it's a great way to save money on gear for kids. But experts say it's important to double-check that the item you're interested in hasn't been recalled.

"It’s good practice when shopping at yard sales to see if items you want to purchase have been recalled before you buy them," Davis says. "If those items have been recalled, don’t buy them." (You can either search online for the product name and "recall" or download the CPSC's Recalls App to quickly search their database.)

Also, it can be tough to be on top of all of the recalls out there. That's why Watkins suggests visiting Safe Kids Worldwide and registering for their newsletter. "They'll email a list of all the recalls to you regularly," she says.

My item hasn't been recalled, but my kid is having an issue. What should I do to report it?

Recalls only happen after public officials are made aware that there's an issue and investigate it. If you have an issue with an item your child has used, Davis says it's important to report it to the CPSC.

"Consumers can report safety incidents, injuries or deaths with products under CPSC’s jurisdiction to us at www.SaferProducts.gov," she says. Davis adds that consumers can also go to that website to see if others have had issues with certain products. "Reporting to CPSC ... is important and can help save lives."

This article was published on Aug. 3, 2023 and has been updated.