Mar 14, 2022 - Economy

Product recalls decline in first full year of pandemic

Number of product recalls, by category
Data: Sedgwick Brand Protection 2022 State of the Nation recall index; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The number of recalls in major product categories fell in the first full year of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Product safety oversight is a critical function of federal regulators. But in 2021 most regulatory inspections were conducted remotely, making oversight more logistically difficult.

By the numbers: Companies conducted 2,560 recalls of autos, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and beverages in 2021, down 12% from 2020 and down 17% from 2017, according the Sedgwick Brand Protection 2022 State of the Nation recall index.

  • Recalls were lower in each category from 2017 to 2021, according to data analyzed by Sedgwick for Axios — though autos and food and drink were up slightly from 2020 to 2021.
  • “There were probably some things the lack of inspections or remote inspections didn’t find,” Chris Harvey, senior vice president of client service for Sedgwick, tells Axios. “Obviously the pandemic has had an impact.”

The intrigue: Harvey noted that Democratic administrations are typically more likely than Republican ones to more closely scrutinize business operations.

  • The lower numbers correspond to the first year of the Biden administration, and were lower compared with the first and last years of the Trump regime.

Keep in mind: Other factors could also be reducing recalls, most of which are voluntary. Those may include improvements in manufacturing quality.

  • The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 has led to across-the-board upgrades in food manufacturing, Harvey says.

Yes, but: The total number of products recalled reached 1 billion in 2021 for only the second time in a decade, with three different recalls each involving more 100 million units, according to Sedgwick.

  • There have also been several high-profile recalls during the Biden administration, including most recently a massive recall affecting a slew of products from more than 400 Family Dollar stores after FDA inspectors discovered a rat infestation at the retailer’s distribution center in West Memphis, Arkansas.
  • “The FDA will continue to work with companies to minimize the American public’s exposure to potentially harmful products,” the FDA said in a statement.

What we’re watching: Whether recalls spike now that the number of COVID-19 cases has subsided and in-person inspections are resuming.

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