Guidelines for product recalls
Information for suppliers on how to carry out a product recall.
What is a recall?
When there are reported injuries, safety concerns or a product falls short of a safety or quality standard, it may be necessary to launch a product recall to advise consumers that there is a problem.
Recalls do not necessarily involve the return of every product to the supplier. The term recall is now used to cover a wide range of actions that can be taken as a result of an unsafe product being identified. For example they are often issued to advise consumers of the need to have the product upgraded or repaired, and may involve no more than the supplier sending out additional components or instructions to customers.
The Ministry often receives calls from the media asking for information related to product recalls. If we have been advised prior to the publication of the recall we can respond appropriately. This may mean that the media don’t need to call suppliers and that the information which is published is accurate.
Aims of a recall
A well handled product safety recall does not harm your business. On the contrary, it shows your customers that you put their safety foremost. However, a poorly handled recall can damage your reputation and bring adverse publicity, as can attempting to cover up safety concerns.
It is important to get the process right and to be able to monitor how many of the original product has been returned. Depending on the product this may be easy or very difficult. The main focus of the recall is to:
- minimise the risk of injury
- maximise the number of returned faulty products
- minimise the cost and inconvenience to consumers and businesses.
High value products, or those which have been sold online, may have sufficient customer details recorded in the transaction records to be able to identify most, if not all, customers. In this case it may be possible to send letters out directly to the majority of buyers. However this is not a failsafe method as some may have moved since buying the product and it is always advisable to take other measures in addition to this.
For low value products, the consumers who have bought the product may just throw it away rather than seeking a refund or replacement, so it will be difficult to monitor the recall process. The Ministry advises consumers who have bought recalled products to contact the suppliers so that their product can be accounted for.
For nationally sold products, it is advisable to publish recall notices in the major newspapers. In addition to this, and for products sold locally, a point of sale display is required, with notices displayed prominently at the till and in store in relevant display areas.
Is a recall required?
If you become aware of a potential defect which may make a product unsafe, or have been advised of an injury involving a product, you should assess the following:
- All the available information:
talk to customers who have complained
consult others who may have received complaints
investigate any reported injuries to see how and why they happened, and what steps could be taken to prevent them happening again
arrange independent test reports.
- Identify the products involved – batch numbers, production dates, etc.
- Locate the goods – warehouses, retailers, customers
- Assess the injury potential and likelihood of injury
- Contact the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. We need to know:
the nature of the fault or injury
the number of products affected
what measures you intend to take.
To handle the recall you will need:
- a nominated individual to coordinate the recall
- distribution details – how many sold, which outlets
- a remedy – will you refund, replace, or rework? Make sure that you have sufficient quantities of any replacement product or additional parts.
- monitoring – put systems in place to record how many returns you have to gauge progress of the recall
- follow the Ministry’s Recall Checklist
The fault in a product could be related to various aspects of it:
With the product itself
e.g. a manufacturing fault causes a weld on a bicycle to fail and the bicycle collapses while it is being ridden.
Failure to meet a mandatory standard
e.g. a product safety standard made under the Fair Trading Act or an electrical safety standard cited under electrical safety legislation.
With the packaging
e.g. a cap on a bottle of household cleaner which does not fit properly and may easily be accessed by children, or labelling which omits vital safety information.
Caused by the use of a product
e.g. a mug which shatters when filled with hot liquid.
e.g. instructions which omit safety processes or which lack clarity for an ordinary member of the public to follow. This could for example include poor instructions on how to safely assemble a product sold in kitset form (especially if the instructions have been poorly translated for an imported product) or advice on how the product should be used.
For products which have been recalled internationally, importers and distributors should handle the recall, contacting their retailers to advise them of the process. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs monitors international recalls and if a product which has been recalled overseas is sold in New Zealand, it would be expected that a similar recall is launched here too.
Where a recall has been issued overseas – for example in Australia - the format of the notice may not be acceptable for use in New Zealand. Please contact the Ministry of Consumer Affairs for guidance on this.
Who can help?
Any planned recall should be notified to the Ministry by:
- email; or
- phone 0508 627 774.
The Ministry can offer advice on drafting your recall notice and publicising the recall. Our website may carry details of recalled consumer products which fall within our remit.
It may be possible for the Ministry to provide some training for your organisation. If you think that this would be helpful, please contact us.
Following the Recall Checklist to ensure that you have taken all reasonable steps.
For more help you may need to contact your business lawyer.
Type of publicity
Recalls are usually publicised through direct contact with customers where possible, and through newspaper advertising, in-store notices and on the company’s website. The Ministry may also publish recall notices on our website.
However, there are other ways you can publicise a recall. You need to consider what is most likely to get the message to the people who are using the product concerned. It is a good idea to consider what advertising you used to make them buy the product in the first place, as a similar route may be effective in advising them of a safety issue. Think about the type of people you are trying to reach. Some people will read community newspapers but not a national paper.
Possible options include:
- display signs in shops that sold the product
- advertise in daily and community newspapers
- ask relevant organisations to publish the recall in their newsletters, eg. Plunket may publicise the recall of a toy
- advertise in magazines where the product was advertised
- advertise in specialist publications e.g. if a gardening tool is involved then recall notices in specialist gardening magazine(s)
- issue a media release to newspapers, radio and television
- advertise on radio or television
- advertise in retailers’ mailers.
A media release can result in free publicity for your recall on radio, television and in newspapers. Coverage of a recall on television news or programmes like 'Fair Go' can be particularly effective.
A media release should be short, frank and written in simple language. The main point should come first and quotes should be used if possible. The same information as in the recall notice should be included.
Newspaper or magazine advertising
Place advertisements in newspapers in the regions where the product has been sold. Advertisements should be placed in a prominent position in the News section, not the Public Notices.
It should be obvious that the notice is for safety reasons. The advertisement should be at least two columns wide with a suggested minimum of 11cm by 14cm. it should have an eye catching border with bold, diagonal lines and a hazard triangle in the top left hand corner. The border should be black, black and yellow, or black and red.
If a recalled product cannot be modified or repaired to make it safe to use, it should be disposed of so that it cannot be used again. Suppliers have been convicted where recalled goods were onsold through an auction website and the buyer then resold them.
Some issues to take into consideration are:
- Safety: if a product was unsafe initially, it needs to undergo some substantial change or modification to ensure that it is safe to put back onto the market.
- Legal: there may be additional requirements which apply to a product, e.g. electrical regulations, which must be complied with. Additionally, under consumer legislation, products must be safe and described correctly.
- Environmental: if a product contains toxic materials, e.g. lead, it must be destroyed in an environmentally sound manner.
When you have taken action to modify or destroy a product, please contact us to advise us of your action. You may wish to supply documentary evidence of your actions for our records.
For the recall notice, you will need:
- details of the defective product
- clear photographs of the product
- a freephone number in New Zealand.
The recall notice should be contained within the standard border – a bold, diagonally hatched line with a hazard triangle in the top left hand corner. This may be in black, black and yellow, or black and red print and should occupy a minimum of two column widths.
The notice should carry the following information in clear print:
Give the brand and model of the product as it was marketed.
Use a clear photograph or line drawing of the product. This should be easily identifiable to attract the reader’s attention.
If a particular batch or production date is affected, give details of how consumers may establish whether their product is part of the affected batch. This may be by means of a serial number, date code, bar code, labelling or product feature.
It is helpful to identify where and when the product may have been bought, or that it was available nationwide through named suppliers.
Give the reason for the recall, for example a failure to meet a safety standard, or reported injuries. Be clear and concise with this information – do not try to avoid mentioning injuries if these have occurred, and do not over-explain the issue. If too much information is given, consumers may try to fix the fault themselves. If not enough information is given they may not take the hazard seriously and risk injury to themselves or others using the product.
What to do
Provide clear instructions on what action consumers with affected products should take. Tell them whether they need to contact you for further instructions, send the product back, take it to the retailer they bought it from, or register a claim on a website. If they should immediately stop using the product, state this clearly.
You should provide a NZ freephone number for enquiries and the name and address of the company involved.
Download a product recall notice template (41 KB, Word)