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Consumers becoming ‘numb’ to expanding product recalls

Retailers, manufacturers and government regulators are becoming concerned that the growing number of product recalls is generating "fatigue" in consumers. They worry that this condition could cause consumers to ignore or remain unaware of a recall that could pose health or injury dangers. This is a fatigue that regular readers of this blog may have themselves felt.

Recalling a potentially dangerous product has become ever more popular, as manufacturers and regulatory officials try to improve product safety. With over 2,300 product recalls in 2011 (around 6.5 per day), Pennsylvania consumers face challenges just keeping up-to-date with this information. 2011 recalls represent an almost 14 percent increase from 2010 alone.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Consumer Product Safety Commission assembles data to track and monitor product recalls. All forms of consumer products, pharmaceuticals, food and medical devices are monitored.

Many interesting observations surround the increase in product recalls. Most believe the combination of regulatory oversight increases, more accurate testing technologies and Internet websites permitting individual consumers to identify and discuss product problems are fueling increased recalls.

However, the sheer number of recalls appears to also be creating "consumer recall fatigue." The public may no longer be paying close attention to recalls that may affect them. Often, consumers apparently are not reacting or responding diligently to many recalled product remedies.

Retailers report struggling to connect with consumers either unaware of or ignoring product recalls. An older study (2009) discovered around 12 percent of respondents ate food they knew was recalled and 40 percent admitted they never looked for recalled products around the home.

Some industry spokespersons maintain that the current national recall system "doesn't work as designed." They believe that both retailers and consumers need a single, unified network dispensing product recall information. Retailers and regulators are frustrated that many consumers, numb from "recall overload," are unwilling to protect themselves, even when learning that a dangerous product is recalled.

Source: USA Today, "Surge in Products Being Recalled May Be Numbing Consumers," Christopher Doering, June 11, 2012

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