Consumer Product Recalls Reached Record High in 2023: Report

Analysts predict businesses will face more oversight from federal regulators in the coming years, as well as more aggressive enforcement aimed at protecting consumer safety.

According to a new report, U.S. consumers saw more of their products recalled due to safety reasons last year than any other year over the last decade.

In a product safety recall report (PDF) published by Sedgwick Brand Protection this month, market risk analysts indicate that more than 3,300 recalls were issued in 2023, impacting 135.23 million products; numbers not seen since 2016.

Market and recall risk experts analyzed vehicle, food, drink, medication, medical device, and consumer product safety recalls that were issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The report focused on recalls issued between October 1 and December 31, 2023, along with those issued in January 2024.

 

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In 2023, there were 3,301 recall events across the five industries the group tracks, representing a five-year high. Both the pharmaceutical and consumer products sectors experienced their highest recall rates in the past ten years, with 517 and 322 events respectively.

Overall, the total volume of units recalled in the U.S. was much lower than 2022’s record-breaking 1.48 billion. Across all five industries there were 759.36 million units recalled. However, the consumer products industry set a seven-year annual high with 135.23 million units impacted. In contrast, medical devices saw a six-year low, followed by pharmaceuticals which experienced a four-year low, in terms of impacted units. Pharmaceuticals dropped from a record-high of 567.35 million units in 2022 to 98.51 million in all of 2023.

Consumer Product Recalls

Consumer product recall numbers increased 12.6% last year and were the highest seen in over five years, experts indicate. There were 135.2 million defective consumer products recalled in 2023, representing a ten-year-high.

Fire risks associated with sports, recreational, garden, and home appliance products were the leading cause of consumer product recalls in 2023, which marked the highest annual figure attributed to fires in over five years.

The fourth quarter of 2023 saw a 33.8% increase in recalls, compared to the third quarter. The rate of products impacted by recalls increased significantly by 855.5%, rising from 8.67 million products in the third quarter of 2023, to 82.79 million in the fourth. The average number of products impacted by recalls also increased from 133,308 units in the third quarter to 951,654 in the fourth, with four recalls impacting more than two million products in the fourth quarter, compared to only one recall of that size in the third quarter.

Children’s products accounted for the majority of consumer recalls in the fourth quarter on 2023, and also accounted for 85.6% of recalled units, impacting 70.88 million products.

More than 70 million recalled products were related to a single rolling candy recall issued in October 2023, due to concerns about choking hazards. That recall followed the death of at least one child, who choked on a rolling ball of candy she was eating after it dislodged from its container.

In January 2024, consumer product recalls declined by 41%, with the number of recalled products decreasing by 97%, compared the fourth quarter of 2023. Home furnishings accounted for the highest number of recalled products, followed by electronics. Despite the decrease, experts anticipate those figures to change significantly due to pending data on the total number of products impacted by a furniture tip-over restraint recall issued in January, estimated to be in the millions.

Motor Vehicle Recalls

Motor vehicle recall numbers reached a 3-year high last year, with electrical system defects attributing to 21.1% of automotive recalls issued in 2023. Last year saw the highest number of electrical system recalls over the past five years, and experts expect them to increase further, as automakers focus on transitioning to electric vehicle models. While total recall events slightly decreased from 955 in 2022, to 916 in 2023, the number of impacted vehicles was 23.1% higher, increasing from 31.21 million in 2022, to 38.43 million in 2023.

In reviewing recalls reported in the fourth quarter of 2023, vehicle recall numbers were higher than any other product recall category, with electrical systems among the most common cause. Experts indicate the number of vehicles impacted by recalls in the fourth quarter were the highest since the first quarter of 2010, increasing from 7.92 million vehicles in the third quarter, to 14.69 million in the fourth.

The majority of recalls announced in January 2024 were related to vehicles, with 57 recalls impacting 4.58 million vehicles. Electrical systems were also the leading cause of automotive recalls in January 2024, attributing to 18 recalls and impacting 2.22 million vehicles, experts indicate.

Food Safety Recalls

Risk analysts indicate that the number of food and drink-related recalls hit a five-year high in 2023, increasing by 19.6% compared to 2022. The leading cause of those recalls were related to undeclared allergens in the products, followed by bacterial and foreign material contamination.

Among the food recalls announced in the fourth quarter on 2023, most involved produce, such as the widespread cantaloupe recall announced in November 2023, which was linked to hundreds of salmonella food poisoning cases reported nationwide, including at least three deaths.

While the fourth quarter of 2023 had fewer total recalls and fewer product numbers impacted by recalls than in the third, one recall reported in the fourth quarter impacted more than one million products alone.

Non-bacterial contamination was the leading cause of food-related recalls in the fourth quarter of 2023, impacting 3.07 million units. Nearly all of those recalled food products stemmed from a single applesauce recall, due to the presence of excessive levels of lead, and were linked to hundreds of lead poisoning cases across dozens of states.

The most common reason for food recalls in 2023 involved bacterial contamination, followed by inspection failures, quality issues, foreign material contamination, and misbranding or undeclared allergens. Experts indicate 170,725 pounds of beef, 87,937 pounds of poultry, and 44,567 pounds of pork products were recalled last year due to mislabeling and foreign material contamination alone. While the USDA issued only two recalls in January 2024, one impacted 133,039 pounds of poultry products due to foreign material contamination, and the second impacted 11,097 pounds of pork products due to salmonella bacterial contamination.

Despite federal agency and industry experts to combat infant formula contamination seen in recent years, three recalls were issued in 2023 due to cronobacter sakazakii contamination, which led to at least one child’s death.

The analysts indicated that businesses can expect more stringent oversight from federal regulators in the face of growing consumer safety concerns.

“Consumer product companies can expect aggressive enforcement from both the FTC and CPSC, with a greater focus on seller responsibilities and the duty to report product defects,” the report concludes. “The number of fines and regulatory actions will likely continue to rise.”

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