Where to Check for Product Recalls

Kimberly Palmer

A top priority of parents is to keep their children safe. But despite a plethora of information on recalls and warnings aimed at them, parents don't always get the message. In fact, many find themselves overwhelmed by the task.

That's partly because of the many recalls (more than 400 a year from the Consumer Product Safety Commission alone), warnings and safety tips in the news. The federal government offers multiple websites for safety information, including recalls.gov, saferproducts.gov and safercar.gov. If you're struggling to keep it all straight, here are six strategies for finding recall information and protecting your family:

Choose your source. Some people prefer to look up recall details on government websites such as recalls.gov or cpsc.gov. Others enjoy receiving alerts via email, and anyone can sign up to receive the alerts at cpsc.gov. The General Services Administration released an app that combines recall announcements from the CPSC, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture. (It's currently available only for the Android, although other companies have launched recall apps, which pull from government data and are available for iOS.)

[See: The Most Dangerous Products.]

"For the consumer, it's a choice as to whether they would like the information pushed to them, or if they will take the approach of searching it out," says CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. The website saferproducts.gov allows users to read about thousands of incident reports, including those that have not (yet) led to any recalls. The CPSC also makes an effort to reach out to low-income families and minority communities about recalls and safety information through health clinics, fire departments and local leaders.

Check out non-governmental websites. The site safekids.org is filled with safety tips and recall information gathered from federal agencies and children's hospitals. Anthony Green, director of public policy at Safe Kids Worldwide, notes that children's hospitals are sometimes the first to pick up on serious hazards, like Buckyballs, which are high-powered magnets.

Alison Rhodes started her website, SafetyMom.com, to help give parents another way to get information. "There is so much misinformation out there. ... When you're talking about electrical products, or something hazardous to your family, you have to stay vigilant, even when something hasn't been recalled," she says. She adds that kids often use products in ways that you don't expect (like climbing a dresser as if it's a ladder) or get into adult products (like magnets). Dressers that are unstable and more likely to tip over can be recalled, but even otherwise stable dressers can tip under the weight of a climbing child and pulled-out drawers.

[Read: Nap Nanny Recall: What You Should Know.]

Avoid high-danger products. Certain types of products, including trampolines and large pieces of furniture that can tip over are frequently to blame for injuring children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against home trampoline use. Particularly when purchasing older or secondhand baby gear, parents should double-check to make sure products have not been recalled. Drop-side cribs, for example, are now banned and can no longer be sold, including on secondhand markets. Also, the CPSC is currently pursuing a ban on high-powered magnet sets and has sued several companies that continue to sell them.

Tara Cherry learned how easy it can be for children to get their hands on dangerous household items in September when her son, then 17 months old, swallowed one of her small magnetic bookmarks. "I must have left one on the counter and not realized [it]," says the mother of three, who lives in southern Illinois. She called poison control, which walked her through what to do, including watching for signs of fever and evaluating the size of the magnet. (Since it was smaller than a dime, the plan was to just wait for it to pass.) Now, Cherry keeps all magnets and batteries out of reach.

Spend time on car safety. Driving is one of the most dangerous activities we do, so double-checking car seat installation and safety is important. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (nhtsa.gov) and safercar.gov offer useful tips and information, including recall alerts and car seat details. Three in four car seats are installed incorrectly, and many people put their child in the wrong type of car seat without realizing it.

Strap kids down, and keep your eyes on them. Joan Muratore, test program leader for Consumer Reports, says falls, especially from high chairs, constitute one of the most common injuries for babies. "You want to be careful that the harness is secure. Even though it's not required to have a five-point harness, we prefer it, so the kid can't wiggle his legs up [and get out]," she says. Kids can also fall out of strollers, which is why she says parents should always fasten the harness.

[Read: Bumbo Recall Shows Growth of Safety Standards.]

Register new products. When you register your new car, car seat, high chair or other product with the manufacturer, you will be alerted if the product faces a recall. New products typically come with a registration card, but many people end up throwing out these cards with the rest of the packaging.

Despite the important task of keeping kids safe, Green of Safe Kids Worldwide says there's no need to stress out to an extreme degree. "Let's not take the fun out of a kids' young life or parenting ... Research and common sense are important," he says. And if you do discover a hazardous product, be sure to report it to the authorities like CPSC, Green adds. "Tell us about it, so other parents can learn from your experience."