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The 10 Most Disastrous Product Recalls of All Time

Posted by on June 11, 2010

It’s every company’s worst nightmare: a major product recall.  In the age of the internet, recall news and bad press spread faster than Swine Flu. A company has to act fast and stay organized BEFORE the recall takes place in order to keep its brand intact and assure the public that everything is under control. Here are a few of the more notorious recalls.

1. Toyota Recall (2010)


Gene Grabowski, the chair of litigation and crisis practice at Levick Strategic Communications dubbed the Toyota Recall “the worst handled auto recall in history” in a Newsweek article. Problems with faulty pedals and floor mats leading to unintended acceleration led to a recall of over 9 million vehicles. The company came under harsh criticism for seeming to “duck and deny” instead of reassuring consumers and are still struggling to repair their damaged brand.

Lesson Learned: Don’t duck. Don’t deny. Don’t point fingers.

2. Tylenol, Two Recalls (1982, 2010)


Tylenol had two major recalls. One was handled properly. The second one – not so much. In 1982, after seven people in the Chicago area died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol, the company immediately recalled 31 million units. Come 2010, when complaints surfaced that Tylenol medicines caused nausea and carried a “musty” odor, Tylenol’s reaction was anything other than instantaneous. After 20 months of complaints, Tylenol finally issued a broad recall of 60 million units.

Lesson Learned: Act fast.

3. Ford Pinto, a Scandalous Recall (1978)


It’s the most recognized recall scandal of all time.  The Ford Pinto’s eye-catching, half-Gremlin- half-Escort design made it especially dangerous in a rear-end collision: the fuel tank could easily be punctured. Allegedly, Ford was aware of this potentially deadly design flaw, but refused to foot the bill for a redesign.  The car was later nicknamed the “barbecue that seats four,” and made Time Magazine’s list of the Fifty Worst Cars of all time.

After lengthy investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Ford Motor Company agreed to recall 1.5 million Ford Pinto models in 1978.

Lesson Learned: Don’t wait to issue a recall — especially when you’re aware that the product is a proven hazard.

4. E.Coli Spinach Recall (2006)


In 2006, at least 199 people became infected and three died after eating e. coli-tainted spinach. The  outbreak was traced to a processing plant in California, which led to multiple brands being recalled. E Coli is said to be the most dangerous type of food poisoning scare. 

Lesson Learned: Make sure your current system is up-to-date and that your tracking is transparent at all times. In the event of a recall, you’ll be prepared and you can more easily recall your products.  

5. Easy Bake Ovens (2007)


Is an Easy Bake Oven recall really that surprising? It’s a small oven. For kids. In February, 2007 Hasbro voluntarily recalled about 1 million Easy Bake Ovens after receiving 249 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught in the door and 77 burn reports.

Lesson Learned: Test and test again. Especially when you’re making products for children.

6. Graco High Chair Recalls (2010)


The March 2010 recall of Graco High Chairs raised concerns all over the U.S. about high chair safety.  The company issued a recall after 464 reports of screws loosening and falling out, and plastic brackets breaking and causing the high chairs to tip. Graco recalled 1.2 million units. Graco already had a reputation for child safety recalls – this was the company’s third. In January, 2010 Graco recalled 1.5 million strollers due to fingertip amputation and laceration hazards.

Lesson Learned: The first recall gave Graco an opportunity to re-brand and start putting out safer products. Instead, Graco took the hard route (and the heartless one) and put out more flimsy, defective products.

7. Peanut Butter Recall (2009)


Remember early in January 2009 when everyone was afraid to eat peanut butter cookies, crackers, and pretty much anything with so much of a speck of peanut dust? Blame this recall! The Peanut Corporation of America issued the recall due to fears of salmonella. But because peanut butter is used as an ingredient in thousands of packaged foods, the recall was expanded to include 3,918 food products.

Lesson Learned: If your product is used as an ingredient, make sure you’re using an ERP system that sufficiently tracks where it ends up.

8. Pet Food Recall (2007)


No bones about it: pets are part of the family. We buy them treats. They sleep in our beds. We even hire dog walkers and kitty caretakers, so they won’t get lonely. The 2007 pet food recall, (the largest pet food recall in U.S. History) enraged animal lovers across the country. The Food and Drug Administration received more than 14,000 consumer complaints about pet food poisoning but in the end, reported only the first 14 deaths. According to this article from MSNBC there were 226 proven deaths.

Some call for giving the FDA mandatory recall authority. Currently, the FDA can encourage manufacturers to initiate a recall but with the exception of medical devices, infant formula and biological products, they cannot enforce one.

Lesson Learned: In the event of a recall, don’t just reassure consumers that your products are safe. Give them a reason to trust you – explain what happened and what steps you are taking to ensure that it won’t happen again.

9. Firestone Tires (2000)


It is one of the most dangerous product mishaps of all time.  In 2000, Firestone recalled 6.5 million defective tires. The treads on the tire would oftentimes separate and peel off, causing car accidents. This failure resulted in over 175 deaths and over 700 injuries. Many people still associate Firestone Tires with this recall disaster.

Lesson Learned: Make a high-quality product.

10. Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Toys (2007)


The 2007 Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway Toys recall brought concerns about lead paint into the limelight. Lead paint can cause adverse health effects and is particularly harmful to children under six. Thankfully with this recall, no injuries were reported and the company recalled 1.5 million Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Toys.

Lesson Learned: Stay informed about the substances that comprise your products.

Are you prepared for a recall? Contact us and find out how EsoPro can help with product recalls.

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