In 2022, over one billion products were recalled in the US ranging from food to drugs to automobiles. Recalls can be because of simple issues with packaging or ingredients to potentially deadly design flaws. Most of the time they make sense when you hear about them, like frozen pizzas being recalled for containing metal pieces. No one wants metal pizza. But sometimes the reason for a product recall is surprising or horrifying in a way no one could have expected.
10. Sawback Blade Bayonets Were Recalled by Germany in WWI
Product recalls are not a new concept by any means, they date back many years. They also don’t have to relate to a flaw in the product itself but how it’s used or perceived out in the world. One of the most harrowing examples of this dates back to World War One.
The German army issued soldiers something called a sawback blade bayonet during the First World War. Like any bayonet, this was a blade affixed to the end of a gun barrel. The blade was 14.5 inches long and the earliest versions had a serrated sawback on the non-bladed edge, hence the name.
Germany was forced to recall the blades partway through the war for a grisly reason. If the blade was used as intended, meaning a soldier plunged it into their enemy’s guts, the saw blade would literally gut them. The incredibly painful attack would pull intestines and organs out and leave the victim in agony.
9. Myth II: Soulblighter Was Recalled Because It Could Delete Chunks Of Your Hard Drive
Video games suffer their fair share of recalls for various reasons, and a software glitch seems like a very reasonable one. But software glitches can come in various forms and the one that affected Myth II: Soulbringer was a doozy.
The game was released in 1998 and there was a major bug in the uninstaller software that was included. When the recall was first announced the game designer, Bungie, simply told anyone who already installed it to manually uninstall the game and not use the software but they didn’t explain why.
The problem was that the uninstall software wouldn’t just remove the game, but parts of the user’s hard drive as well. So the company had to recall the entire first run of discs and replace them with fixed versions.
8. Toyota Recalled Millions of Cars for Faulty Accelerators
Automobile recalls are remarkably common and often relate to minor details like switches or lights that get glitchy in certain models under certain conditions. But some of these recalls can be huge and result from deadly errors.
One of the biggest and worst recalls of all time, over 8 million vehicles, involved faulty gas pedals in Toyota vehicles. The company had to pay a $1.2 billion fine because of the pedals which could cause unintended acceleration and resulted in the deaths of several people. The fine was also imposed because the company knew it was happening and hid it.
As part of the deal, Toyota admitted they not only built cars with faulty parts but that they continued to do so even knowing how dangerous they were.
Not only did people die, others were held accountable. Koua Fong Lee went to prison after his Toyota sped up into a car killing a man and his two young children. No one believed his defense that the car accelerated on its own. But after the news about Toyota came out, a judge released him. He’d already spent three years in prison.
Instead of criminal prosecution, Toyota simply paid a fine. In 2022, Toyota’s gross profit was over $55 billion.
7. A Dancing Chicken Was Recalled Due to Risk of Hearing Loss
Every time a major holiday rolls around you can count on most stores to be filled with displays of seasonal goods including a seemingly endless supply of kitschy or tacky decorations designed for the occasion. In 2013, one such product had to be recalled thanks to its potential to ruin Easter.
Fred Meyer stores issued a recall for the Dan-Dee “Chicken Dance” Easter chick, a dancing chicken toy, because it was too loud. Most toys are recalled for issues related to health hazards for children that stem from choking hazards or potentially toxic ingredients. The chicken was recalled because of the risk of hearing damage.
No one reported being injured by the $20 chicken but federal standards state that a toy that can be used close to your ears shouldn’t exceed 65 decibels. The chicken maxed out at 85, which is the equivalent to a blender or heavy traffic.
6. The Electric Worm Getter Was Recalled After 30 Deaths
If you’re not an angler, you may not be aware of how some folks gather bait for fishing. Though not an everyday practice, some anglers will use electricity to catch worms. You just need to insert a metal pole that has a current running through it into the wet ground and they rush to the surface. The issue, of course, is doing it safely.
In 1993, 83,000 “worm getter” probes were recalled due to risk of electrocution. At least 30 people had already died from using similar products by the time the recall was issued. Some touched the metal pole itself, others were shocked through the ground near the pole. They were powered by standard household electrical supply, so the probes were just plugged into a wall and people were essentially touching the live wire attached to metal on the other end.
Most of the deaths reported were children but none were actually attributed to the specific worm getter that issued the recall. The company was no longer in business but the recall was in response to the damage caused by similar products.
5. The Flushmate Toilet Flushing System Was Recalled More Than Once for Exploding
Low-flow toilets had to legally be installed in homes built since 1994 as part of federal regulations. Since that time, many people have complained about toilets not being powerful enough. To combat this problem, products like the Flushmate were introduced, a tool designed to increase the power of your flush.
Normal toilets use the power of gravity to get the toilet contents to flush out of the bowl. Flushmate pumps actually forced things down the drain to, in theory, offer a more effective flush. Some of their products had to be recalled in 2012 and again in 2018, both for the same reason.
The flushing systems had a bad habit of exploding when the pressure got too high, resulting in damage and serious injury. At least one person required surgery after their toilet blew. The total damage from exploding toilets was over $700,000. The company had received thousands of complaints and recalled millions of products.
4. A Fire Suppressant Was Recalled For Making Fires Worse
There are literally thousands of parts in a car that can fail and cause a greater or lesser amount of damage. Other products are straightforward and work one single way. If the product can’t do the one job it’s designed to do, it’s a failure. But there’s still one worse thing, and that’s a product that somehow does the opposite of what it’s meant to do. That was Fire Cap.
Fire Cap was supposed to be a fire suppressant tool, something that could save lives. It was an aerosol can that was meant to be sprayed on small fires, like a stovetop fire or one in a trash can. So it was something like a small version of a common fire extinguisher. The product was recalled after it was determined it actually makes fire worse.
3. A Brewdog Employee Forced a Recall of Beer with an Obscenity Printed on the Can
Beverage companies have been adding messages on labels and under caps for decades now. In 2016, an employee at the Brewdog brewery added an unsanctioned message that read Mother F***er Day to the bottom of 200,000 cans of beer underneath the best before date, causing them all to be recalled.
The employee performed what he called a prank in response to online criticism about the brewery. The company was founded with a bit of a rebellion, punk rock attitude and fans felt they’d lost their edge. The employee took that as a challenge and changed the printing on the cans.
When the cans hit the market, customers began posting photos online which is how the company learned about it. So what punishment did the vandal face from the higher ups as a result? They made him employee of the month.
2. The 1998 DVD Release of Little Shop of Horrors Was Recalled For Using Ugly Unreleased Footage
It’s not often a movie would get recalled, especially if the movie came out in 1986 and what was recalled was the 1998 DVD release, but that happened to Little Shop of Horrors.
If you remember the glory days of DVDs, they used to contain all kinds of extra features. Little Shop of Horrors included 23 minutes of unreleased footage that original audiences hated. It was the first ending to the film, in which the main characters are eaten by the sentient plant. Test audiences hated it, so a new ending was filmed and the old one was nearly forgotten until the DVD.
The problem was that, according to producer David Geffen, it was a black and white, unscored video copy that looked horrible. According to director Frank Oz, it wasn’t because the ending was bad, they just wanted to use a color version that at least looked good, or not release it at all. The disc is now a rarity as it was only on the market for a few weeks.
1. The Takata Airbag Recall is the Biggest Safety Recall in History
You can’t talk about recalls and not talk about what has been called the single biggest product recall in history. That’s the Takata airbag recall, and it’s beyond anything you could imagine.
Let’s start with Takata. You may have never heard of them before, but they make nearly all the airbags used in the auto industry. The recall of their products spread across 19 manufacturers and 34 brands of automobiles. They were installed from 2002 to 2015.
By the end of 2022, 67 million of them had been recalled in 42 million US vehicles and there were still 11 million out there. The problem? They had the potential to trigger and go off with enough force to eject metal fragments into the front of the car and kill the person they were meant to save.
The fault was by the manufacturer and was determined to be because of propellants used without a drying agent. This led to 26 deaths and over 400 injuries in the US.
Some vehicles were more prone to the risk than others including early 2000 Hondas, Ford Rangers, Mazdas and BMWs. In 2023 alone, several models have had to issue “no drive” orders to owners for vehicles like the 2003 Dodge Ram pickup and BMW 3 Series cars from 2000 to 2006, not to mention 5 different models of Honda.
Because the recall is still ongoing, there is no ultimate cost but in 2016 Takata was predicting it to be around $24 billion.