How Do Different Government Agencies Handle Product Recalls?

October 9, 2017 | By O'Connor Acciani & Levy
How Do Different Government Agencies Handle Product Recalls?

If a product is found to be hazardous or consumers are harmed by the product, it may be recalled. Various government agencies handle the recall of different products, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each agency has different procedures for handling recalls, as explained below. The Cincinnati product liability attorneys of O’Connor, Acciani & Levy work to protect consumers against defective products. If you suffered an injury caused by a faulty product, contact us today for a free consultation and learn the legal options that may be available to you.

U.S. Department Of Agriculture

What products are handled: The USDA is responsible for recalls of eggs, meat and poultry through the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Why a recall is triggered: Safety recalls of these food items begin for the following reasons:
  • Inspections of a facility by state or federal agencies reveal an issue.
  • FSIS is independently notified of an issue found by a manufacturer or distributor.
  • Random sampling shows a food item fails inspection
  • A person becomes sick after consuming a food product and the state health department notifies the USDA.
Why is a recall issued: The USDA asks for a product to be recalled if the item is adulterated (could cause harm to humans or is unfit for humans to consume) or if it is misbranded (sold or shipped with labels or packaging that is misleading or false). There are three tiers of recall classifications used by the USDA.
  • Class I concerns health hazard situations where food holds a reasonable probability of harming or killing someone who consumes it.
  • Class II concerns food that poses a low risk of causing adverse health reactions in consumers.
  • Class III concerns food that will not cause harm or death.
Recalls are only initiated if the item causing harm has been identified. If consumers become ill but the cause of the illness is not discovered, a warning may be issued by FSIS. Who recalls a product: Food recalls under the USDA are voluntary. Companies initiate recalls voluntarily or are asked to do so by FSIS. No company has refused to recall an item when requested by the FSIS. FSIS does have the authority to seize a questionable product if a company refuses to recall it.

U.S. Food And Drug Administration

What products are handled: The FDA handles recalls of food for human and animal consumption, as well as defective drugs for human and animal consumption. Defective drugs can include prescription or over-the-counter medications, as well as:
  • Medical devices
  • Transplantable tissue
  • Blood
  • Vaccines
  • Cosmetics
  • Tobacco products
  • Alcohol
The recall process starts with the FDA except when alcohol or shellfish are in question. Beer, wine and liquor are handled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Shellfish is handled by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference. Why is a recall triggered: An FDA recall can be triggered for one of the following reasons:
  • Companies alert the FDA of the discovery of a problem with a product.
  • A facility inspection conducted by the FDA shows issues meriting a recall.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert the FDA of reports concerning foodborne illness.
  • State or local health reporting systems alert the FDA to an issue.
Why is a recall issued: Recalls may be issued by the FDA for three reasons:
  • The product causes harm
  • The product is defective
  • The product violates laws or regulations
FDA recalls are classified in three ways:
  • Class I concerns products that pose a reasonable likelihood of causing serious health issues or death.
  • Class II concerns products that could cause temporary or medically reversible harm. These products have only remote possibilities of causing death or severe health hazards.
  • Class III concerns products that likely will not cause adverse health issues. These typically violate regulations or laws.
If a product has an issue that was not caused by its manufacturing process, it will not be recalled by the FDA. A market withdrawal may be issued. This could happen if tampering occurred after the product was sent to retailers. Who recalls a product: Recalls are generally voluntary and performed by the manufacturer or distributor. The business may initiate it or it may be requested by the FDA. The FDA has the authority to issue mandatory recalls for the following products:
  • Certain medical devices
  • Baby formula
  • Biological products
  • Human tissues for transplant
If a company does not act fast enough on an FDA request for recall, the FDA has the power to order the company to stop the product’s distribution and notify other parties in the distribution chain.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

What products are handled: The NHTSA governs recalls of automobiles and products essential to passenger or vehicle safety. Why is a recall triggered: NHTSA recalls often start due to consumer complaints. These complaints are screened by the NHTSA, looking for similarities between them as well as severity. Minor problems affecting many consumers or major problems affecting just a few will trigger further investigation. Why is a recall issued: NHTSA recalls are issued for safety reasons. If a vehicle or component could cause harm or perform in such a way that puts a person in danger, it will be recalled. The Takata airbag recall is a recent example of an NHTSA recall. Who recalls a product: Vehicle manufacturers may issue recalls prior to notifying the NHTSA, or they may not notify the agency. Manufacturers are responsible for recalls, not the NHTSA. The NHTSA can obtain a court order to compel a recall if a manufacturer does not address safety issues in a quick or thorough manner.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

What products are handled: The CPSC handles recalls on items not covered by the above three agencies. This includes most other products available to consumers that are not food or vehicle-related, excluding firearms, the safety of which is not governed by a federal agency. Why is a recall triggered: CPSC recalls start for one of two general reasons:
  • A company learns of a problem, starts a recall and alerts the CPSC.
  • The CPSC receives consumer or media reports.
Why is a recall issued: Recalls may be issued due to:
  • Safety
  • Health hazards
  • Design or manufacturing defects causing safety or health hazards
Businesses legally must report the following product issues to the CPSC:
  • Defective products that could lead to significant risk of injury
  • Products posing unreasonable risks of death or serious injury
  • Products that do not comply with consumer product safety rules, standards, regulations or bans under the CPSC
  • Incidents when children choke on small parts in toys or games causing the child to stop breathing or that result in death, serious injury or the need treatment by medical professionals
  • Certain lawsuits, for manufacturers and importers
Who recalls a product: Companies are responsible for product recalls. The CPSC works to push companies to report issues early and fast tracks recalls when possible. If a company refuses to issue a recall, the CPSC may obtain a court order to force the recall.

Contact Our Defective Product Lawyers

If you were harmed by a defective product, you may be able to file a claim against its manufacturer to recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The attorneys of O’Connor, Acciani & Levy work to protect consumer rights and safety. Our skilled legal team will investigate your case and pursue negligent manufactures on a contingency fee basis. You only pay us if we help secure compensation in your case. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and learn what legal options may be available in your case.