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The missing ingredient

Products should be made safe before they're sold.

hands holding product recall sign
Last updated: 03 May 2021

If you've followed my editorials over time, you'll know that I'm an avid cook. What you may not know is that the pursuit of this pastime has occasionally been at my own peril.

Like anybody who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I've had my fair share of knife nicks and minor burns, most of which have healed within a day or two. None of these, however, compare to the time I bumped a bread knife that was close to the edge of the bench, knocking it onto the floor and in the process severing the tendon that runs along the top of my right foot.

The sorts of products that pose safety risks aren't always obvious

Besides a bit of blood, I didn't realise at the time that I'd caused a serious injury. It was only when I went to put on a pair of thongs the next day that I realised I had lost the ability to hold my big toe up. A subsequent visit to the doctor led to several surgeries and weeks off work.

That injury – like my nicks and burns – was due to pure human carelessness. Since then, I've always been careful about where on the bench I place a sharp knife. Unfortunately, not all kitchen injuries are so simple. As our investigation into recalled kitchen products show, common kitchen products continue to be recalled because of the risks they pose to people.

In our work in recent years we've highlighted some of the worst examples – such as the Thermomix cooking appliance that caused a number of injuries, including serious burns. That led to a mass incident report to the ACCC, with Thermomix ultimately fined $4.6 million for misleading consumers about the safety risks.

One of the reasons we're concerned about safety in the kitchen is that the sorts of products that pose safety risks aren't always obvious. If you've followed the recent publicity around the risks of button batteries to children, it may not have occurred to you that you may well be harbouring some of these risks in your kitchen. 

We think that the high numbers of injuries and product recalls are enabled by a key gap in our product safety laws

Digital kitchen timers and scales are commonly powered by button batteries but there's no guarantee at the moment that they'll be adequately secured – meaning that a battery can easily escape and roll away if the product is dropped. While a new mandatory standard for products containing button batteries will address that risk, it should not have been necessary.

Ultimately, we think that the high numbers of injuries and product recalls are enabled by a key gap in our product safety laws. Businesses that make and sell most products aren't currently required to take precautions to ensure that they are safe before they hit the market. Until we fix that gap, we'll sadly continue to see people with injuries that, unlike my knife injury, could and should have been prevented.