How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Recall
With the rash of toy recalls recently, I have heard a lot of parents say they have sorted through their kids' toys and thrown away anything even close to the ones deemed dangerous. That's silly, for two reasons: One, most recalls are for a very specific product manufactured during a limited date range. Two, most companies provide a way for parents to get a replacement toy or a refund instead of just throwing it away.
When you hear about a recall in the media, the first thing you should do is check out a detailed source. The newspaper or TV news usually doesn't provide enough information for you to know what to do. A great place to start is www.recalls.gov, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission site on this topic. Alternatively, you can almost always find a detailed release on the site of the toy manufacturer, such as this page set up by Mattel. Compare the photo and description of the recalled product to what you have. Some manufacturers provide helpful yes/no "wizards" to help you determine if your toy is part of the recall. Often the release provides certain serial numbers, found on the packaging or the product itself, or a date range.
If you bought the product after the date range, the problem has likely already been fixed. Often it will have a new feature that shows it's been fixed, for example, an extra strap on an infant carrier.
If you bought the product before the recall date range, it's trickier to know what to do: Personally, I took away a Baby Einstein block from my baby that was manufactured before the recall range began. Could I really trust that the blue paint on that block was lead free, or did they just not test any blocks from that range? As I parent, I felt it wasn't worth the risk in that case, so I'm getting rid of the block.
Once you determine that you really do have a recalled toy, get a replacement or get your money back. The easiest way to do that is to shop at a store that promises up front to take them back, like Target. On this recall notice, see where it says, "return the item to the nearest Target store for a full refund"? I returned a recalled puzzle table to Target a couple months ago, and I didn't have a receipt or even have all the pieces. I had bought it in another state years ago. The Target employees couldn't find it in the database, but I told them it was recalled and they took my word for it.
Wal-Mart also said in press releases about specific recalls that customers can return the affected toys for a full refund.
You can generally also contact the manufacturer about a fix, replacement, or refund. Check the press release for details on how to do so.
To tell the truth, I'm usually kind of happy when one of my kids' toys gets recalled because it means I can turn in something they're already tired of and get something new. Of course, some products that have caused tragedies, such as the Simplicity cribs recently recalled, and I do not mean to make light of that. But I'm not the type of parent to freak out over a little lead paint (doctors will tell you that it's more crumbling, peeling lead paint, lead dust, and cumulative exposure you need to worry about) or a toy that might break.
Not all recalls are reported in the media. In fact, I found out about a recall affecting one of my daughter's toys while researching this post. You can stay on top of them by signing up for the CPSC's recall email list.
Keep these resources handy when you go shopping for second-hand children's products, too, whether on EBay or at a garage sale. There's no need to fear buying even a crib second hand (as long as it was made after 1991) -- but I would never buy one without checking the manufacturing information sticker, found directly on the crib, and looking it up online.