From recalls on tainted lettuce and eggs to warnings about defective medical devices and vehicles, just about every day brings a news alert that might save you from illness or injury—if you hear about it in time! How can you stay on top of all these notifications without listening to the news 24/7? The answer is right at your fingertips.
You can sign up to have all types of government alerts delivered right to your inbox. And you can also do your part by reporting any problems you experience with a product—this is important because complaining to the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily put it on the government’s (or the public’s) radar.
Your first step is to go to Recalls.gov, the site that offers access to top federal watchdog agencies with one easy-to-remember URL. From the main page, you can click on tabs for individual agencies that regulate key product categories. That’s where you can read about the latest recalls, report a dangerous product and learn safety tips and, in most cases, subscribe to alerts and newsletters.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU
Not every type of alert may apply to you, of course. Here are the leading agencies that regulate most of the products you use every day. Knowing what each one does will help you decide on which alerts you want…
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Oversees food, cosmetics, human and pet drugs, medical devices, biological products such as vaccines, tissues for transplantation, blood and blood products, tobacco products, and products that emit radiation such as electronics.
To get recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts as they happen, click on “sign up to FDA email notifications” and enter your email address to get to the subscription management center, which lists 25 broad topics and subtopics underneath. Click boxes next to the topics or subtopics you want to subscribe to and hit “submit.” You will receive updates as they occur. From this page you can also navigate to information on all the key categories the FDA serves. These include alerts from MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program.
Another helpful section is import alerts. These let you know about imported products flagged by the FDA because they appear to be in violation of regulations. You can search by country/area, industry, last published date or the number assigned to the alert.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA): Oversees food, farming and agriculture generally.
The allocation of oversight between the FDA and the USDA can be tricky when it comes to food. As an example, the FDA inspects eggs when they’re still in their shells, while the USDA is responsible for egg products, including liquid, frozen and dehydrated eggs. As a consumer, it makes sense to sign up for USDA alerts even if you’ve signed up for FDA alerts. To do so, subscribe to get immediate, daily or weekly email updates. (You’ll receive high-priority updates immediately regardless of your frequency preference.) You can also choose to get alerts via Twitter feed.
Note: The site FoodSafety.gov was created to aggregate information from the USDA and the food arm of the FDA. It offers RSS alerts and is a good place for safety information on buying, storing and cooking food.
US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC): Oversees safety standards for more than 15,000 types of consumer products ranging from refrigerators to fidget spinners.
When you subscribe, you can choose to get all alerts or select certain product categories including household, outdoors, sports and recreation and infant/child.
For safety alerts related to cars and boats, you need to go to two other agencies: the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) oversees road vehicles (including motorcycles), airbags, tires, car seats and other related equipment. The US Coast Guard (USCG) oversees recreational boats and related equipment.
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Oversees pollution levels, pesticides, fungicides and many other household chemicals.
You can opt-in to receive a weekly email digest of EPA blog posts that may include safety alerts.
HOW TO FILE A SAFETY COMPLAINT
In addition to notifying the appropriate government agency of a problem product, if you want to file a consumer complaint against a company, USA.gov walks you through the steps. You can also find the link to your state consumer protection office. Many states’ attorneys general and other departments are quite active in ensuring consumer safety—and often more active than the federal government when it comes to their own state residents.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): This agency focuses largely on protecting consumers (and businesses) from deceptive business practices by enforcing consumer protection laws. The FTC website offers information and a way to file a complaint. You can subscribe to press releases, scam alerts, consumer information updates and/or blog updates. The FTC’s specialty site Consumer.gov covers everything from managing your money to informing you about financial scams and identity theft dangers.