Hand sanitizer recall sparks concern ... Red onion recall expands across Canada due to Salmonella outbreak... Additional ranitidine products recalled worldwide
If you search the term "recall" on a Canadian news website, chances are you will find a lengthy list of headlines like these. But despite how often product recalls occur, it's not always easy to understand what a product recall means for you.
This article is the first of a two-part guide to understanding product recalls. It explains:
- what product recalls are
- when and why they happen
- where to find information about them, and
- how to stay notified of the latest recalls
Look out for a future post on how to tell if your product is part of a recall and if you can sue.
What is a product recall?
A product recall is any corrective action, communicated to a consumer, to address an issue associated with a product. Recalls usually involve the removal of products from further sale, or use, to fix issues that are preventing the products from complying with relevant laws, standards, or representations made by manufacturers.
Recalled products typically have a defect; a flaw or risk of a flaw that may prevent the item from functioning properly, makes it dangerous, or makes the item different than what the company promised. Products recalls can vary in scope depending on what the defect is and how it came to exist.
Some recalls are limited, for example affecting only one batch or "lot" of a product because the defect was unique to that lot (e.g. that lot was accidentally exposed to a chemical or was potentially contaminated in the manufacturing process).
Other recalls may involve an entire line of products (e.g. when a faulty car part is installed in all models of an automaker) or a whole category of products across an industry. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration recalled all drugs that contained ranitidine, the active ingredient used in Zantac and other "acid reducers." (Learn about Siskinds' Zantac class action)
In some situations, one recall may trigger a series of others. Recently, for example, certain onions were recalled due to potential Salmonella contamination, which in turn lead to the recall of many other products made with the onions. (Learn about Siskinds' Onion Recall class action)
Who handles product recalls in Canada?
Different government agencies oversee recalls depending on the type of product at issue.
Health Canada oversees most recalls in Canada as part of its mandate to help Canadians maintain and improve their health. The Minister of Health (which oversees the department) can order recalls of consumer products,1 drugs and medical devices,2 and even cannabis.3
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversees food product recalls per its mandate to mitigate risks to food safety. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food can order food recalls.4
Transport Canada oversees recalls on vehicles, auto parts, and child restraint systems under its mandate to make transportation safe. The Minister of Transport has the power to order automakers to issue a notice of defect or non-compliance about any vehicle or equipment.5
Where a government agency is alerted to a safety defect with a product, it will determine the proper action, including a recall. If a recall is necessary, the agency will ask the company to begin a recall. The agency then publishes the recall on its platforms (e.g. website, email list, etc.), and depending on the level of risk, may alert the media. Once a recall is implemented, the agency conducts effectiveness checks to verify that unsafe products have been removed from sale.
Companies that make and sell products bear most responsibilities in a recall. Manufacturers owe certain obligations with respect to their products under Canadian legislation and regulations, including reporting product safety issues. For example, companies that make, import, or sell consumer products must report serious safety incidents that they become aware of involving their products. Companies also have related obligations not to manufacture, sell, or advertise products that are a danger to health or safety.6
Once a decision has been made to issue a recall, the company is responsible for disseminating the recall (notifying supply chain customers and consumers) and for implementing corrective action that ensures the product complies with applicable standards. After the initial actions are taken, the company retains an ongoing responsibility for assuring that the recall is progressing well and the message is getting to the end user that the product may not be safe.
What triggers a recall?
Several triggers can start the process that leads to a product recall, including:
- Government inspection findings
- Illness outbreak linked to a specific product
- Recall in other country
Companies do not need to wait on government agencies to start recalls. It is in their best interests to recall any product once they learn it's a danger to health and safety. However, a "voluntary recall" is not synonymous with a company-initiated recall. A "voluntary recall" simply means that the recall was not the result of a formal mandatory recall order issued by a Minister. Rather, it was negotiated between a company and government agency. Health Canada's Consumer Product Safety Program encourages companies to carry out recalls in a "voluntary" manner.
Finally, consumer complaints are often what triggers a recall. If you have a complaint, you can:
- Report a food safety or labelling concern
- Report a health product complaint
- Report an incident involving a consumer product or cosmetic
- Report a potential safety defect of vehicles, tires, and child car seats
Where can I find information about product recalls?
There are several government databases that Canadians can use to look up product recalls.
- Consumer Products – The Recalls and Safety Alerts Database is the most comprehensive list of recalls in Canada (Note: It does not include car recalls)
- Motor Vehicles – Transport Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls
Database allows users to look up vehicle recalls issued in
Canada from 1970 to the present.
- Also visit your manufacturer's website – Using your vehicle identification number (VIN) you can look up recalls on your car, including non-safety recalls.
- Car Seats – Transport Canada's Safety alerts and notices for child car seats page allows users to search car seats recalls by manufacturer, or by keyword (e.g. product name)
- Food Products – CFIA's Food recall warnings and allergy alerts list is a searchable record of food recalls. You can also limit your search to High Risk Recall Warnings
How can I stay informed about future recalls?
There are several notification services that send alerts whenever new recalls are issued:
- Consumer products – add the recalls widget, subscribe to email notifications, download the recalls and safety alerts mobile application, or follow Health Canada on Twitter
- Food products – subscribe to RSS feeds or email notifications, download the recalls and safety alerts mobile application, or follow Health Canada on Twitter
- Vehicles and children's car seats – subscribe to the RSS feed, download the recalls and safety alerts mobile application, or register with the manufacturer
- Health products – add the recalls widget, subscribe to email notifications, download the recalls and safety alerts mobile application, or follow Health Canada on Twitter
1 Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, SC 2010, c 21, s. 31(1)
2 Food and Drugs Act, RSC 1985, c F-27, s. 21.3(1).
3 Cannabis Act, SC 2018, c 16, s. 76(1)
4 Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, SC 1997, c 6, s. 19(1)
5 Motor Vehicle Safety Act, SC 1993, c 16, ss. 10(4) and 10.1(7).
6 Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, ss. 14 and 7.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.