Thermomix to pay $4.6m for downplaying burn risks

Court judgement follows CHOICE investigation and mass incident report.

Misleading, deceptive and mean

Thermomix in Australia has been handed a $4.6 million fine in Federal Court following an ACCC investigation that found the Australian-based sales team for the $2000-plus kitchen unit violated consumer law by failing to report dangerous defects.

The ACCC case follows an investigation by CHOICE starting in 2016 that revealed the Thermomix TM31 model had a faulty sealing ring on its mixing bowl that had led to widespread scalding incidents (the model has since been replaced by the TM5).

Between 29 March and 9 May 2016, 87 Thermomix owners filled out a CHOICE mass incident form and reported a problem with their machine (83 with the TM31 model and four with the TM5).

Forty-five reported being injured, and 18 of the injured said they received medical treatment.

CHOICE passed the mass incident report on to the ACCC at the time. 

Between June 2012 and July 2016, Thermomix failed to give notice to government of serious injury caused by the machine within two days on 14 occasions.

Thermomix also released misleading and deceptive statements that the product was safe, the court found, even though Thermomix was aware of 35 serious injuries caused by the machine. 

Playing hardball

Consumers who contacted CHOICE in 2016 said Thermomix in Australia used deny and delay tactics to avoid giving refunds and in some cases demanded that customers return the machine or take the company to court.

There was also suspicion among customers and within the company that Thermomix in Australia intentionally offloaded faulty TM31 units while the new TM5 was available, a tactic that earned the company a CHOICE Shonky award.

On condition of anonymity, one former member of the sales team described a mean-spirited, sales-driven culture in which "there was bullying and intimidation from top to bottom".

Want a refund? Sign a gag order

In our earlier investigation, CHOICE obtained non-disclosure agreements from customers seeking refunds that required them "not to disparage or otherwise comment negatively about Thermomix or Vorwerk [the German manufacturer] and not to take any action which it is intended, or would reasonably be expected, to harm the reputation of Thermomix or Vorwerk, or lead to unwanted or unfavourable publicity".

One Australian law firm wrote to customers saying, "the terms of the deed of settlement [refund of the cost of the machine] are strictly confidential and must not be disclosed to any person (but including via social media) without prior written consent".

The court found that requiring a customer to sign a non-disclosure agreement as a condition for receiving a refund was a further violation of consumer law.

"Thermomix's penalties should serve as a reminder to all businesses that consumers have rights in relation to faulty products which businesses cannot restrict, alter, or remove," said ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court.

"When a consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement under the ACL, businesses cannot place conditions on that right to a refund or replacement and customers certainly shouldn't have to sign non-disclosure agreements."

Thermomix says we're sorry 

Founder and Managing Director of Thermomix in Australia, Grace Mazur, says the company has learnt its lesson and will be contacting and offering a new TM5 model to the 9443 customers who bought a TM31 appliance between 7 July and 23 September 2014, the time period in which Thermomix owners were not warned about a serious safety risk but should have been. 

"It is clear we should have done better in how we managed complex issues over the past few years. We regret this very much, are sorry, and apologise to those who were affected. We have learnt a lot, have evolved as a company in the years since then, and would never make these mistakes again," says Mazur.

CHOICE found the TM5 Thermomix to be an excellent all-in-one kitchen machine but we suspended our recommendation due to substandard customer care.

Thermomix, the distributor of the $2000 all-in-one kitchen machine embroiled in an ongoing safety recall, has conceded to half the allegations made against it in a Federal Court case brought by the ACCC.

The court case centres around the TM31, a product distributed by Thermomix from 2006 until it was discontinued in 2014. All 105,000 units were recalled thereafter following a series of burn incidents.

Thermomix has admitted to owing relief payments for two of the four allegations made against it by the ACCC: for the filing of mandatory incident reports years late, and for rejecting claims that the TM31 was part of a recall campaign.

But the company denies it delayed addressing the safety issues posed until a replacement was available, or that it misled customers about their warranty rights.

Thermomix could have to pay millions as each breach of Australian Consumer Law by a business carries a fine of up to $1.1 million. Then there are the $16,650 fines imposed each time a mandatory incident report is filed late.

Companies are bound by law to notify the ACCC within two days when their products are linked to an injury or death. Thermomix missed the deadline to file fourteen mandatory incident reports, including one that was 1201 days late, two that were more than 500 days late and another that was close to 300 days late.

It's possible that the late filing of two of the incident reports may have delayed the recall of the TM31, allowing the company to introduce a replacement before acknowledging a fault with the $2000 outgoing model.

The fault with the TM31 has to do with a $15 sealing ring which helps ensure the lid stays shut, containing the hot liquids inside. It was only after the TM31's eight-year production run ended that Thermomix informed customers the sealing ring would need to be replaced every two years.

In the three months leading to August 2014, the number of 'serious injuries' linked to the TM31 almost doubled to nine, while repair reports acknowledging faults with the lid almost trebled to 1119.

But Thermomix kept selling the models and promoting it as safe until the TM5 could be released. The company's public relations firm at the time, Cannings Purple PR, released a statement that undermined the seriousness of the recall campaign.

"We would like to clarify that the TM31 has never been the subject of a product recall," the statement read. "We want to reassure our 300,000 Australian customers that Thermomix products ... are absolutely safe, providing they are used in line with the manufacturer's instructions."

Thermomix has now conceded this statement was misleading, as per the ACCC's allegations.

It will dispute the remaining allegations brought by the ACCC in Federal Court on 9 April next year.

Thermomix knew its $2000 kitchen appliance had led to customers being burned months before the company initiated a safety recall, the ACCC claims.

And yet it appears the company kept selling the TM31 – all the while promoting it as safe – until it could release and sell a replacement model.

This is on top of breaches of Australian product safety law, where the company failed to file more than a dozen mandatory injury reports in due time.

Problems with the TM31 stemmed from a $15 sealing ring that failed to keep the lid closed and contain hot liquids, leading to reports of people being burned and scalded when using it.

Thermomix was notified by customers who were seriously injured by the TM31 as early as March 2013, court documents filed by the ACCC reveal.

By May 2014, the tally of customers who had been burned or scalded had increased to five. At the same time 387 repair reports had identified problems with the lid, describing it as leaking, opening or being too loose.

In the following three months, the number of 'serious injuries' almost doubled to nine, while repair reports acknowledging faults with the lid almost trebled to 1119.

Thermomix continued to sell the kitchen appliance and, according to the court filing obtained by CHOICE, did not notify the ACCC of injuries sustained by two TM31 users; information that could have influenced the decision to begin a voluntary recall at the time.

The court case alleges Thermomix strong-armed owners to sign non-disclosure agreements and denied known safety issues.

Instead the Australian distributor chose to continue selling the TM31 until it was replaced by a newer model in September 2014.

Thermomix Australia initiated voluntary recall of the TM31 in October 2014, a full year-and-a-half after being notified of the first serious injury a customer sustained using the kitchen appliance.

The recall involved a replacement seal being issued to Australian customers, who were told to use the machine at lower speeds until it was available in November.

The Australian distributor revealed – after the TM31 was no longer on sale – that the sealing rings used to keep the lid shut must be replaced every two years.

In March 2016, Thermomix's representatives at the time, Cannings Purple PR, denied the TM31 was part of a recall, issuing statements to the media saying "the TM31 has never been the subject of a product recall".

The ACCC is alleging this claim was false and misleading in its Federal Court case.

The a court case brought by the ACCC alleges Thermomix breached several provisions of consumer law when it strong-armed owners to sign non-disclosure agreements and denied known safety issues.

It also alleges Thermomix failed to report injuries to the consumer watchdog within 48 hours of being notified. The court filing reveals Thermomix failed to uphold its obligation in fourteen instances.

One mandatory injury report was filed four years late.

Two others were filed more than 500 days late, another close to 300 days late and one 100 days late.

CHOICE contacted Thermomix for this article, but the Australian distributor declined to comment during legal proceedings.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is alleging in a Federal Court case that Thermomix violated consumer law when it strong-armed owners into signing non-disclosure agreements, denied known safety issues and failed to report injuries in due time.

The court action comes after CHOICE presented 87 incidents caused by Thermomix appliances – 18 of which required treatment from a doctor or nurse – to the ACCC in a mass incident report.

Most of the claims in the court case have to do with the Thermomix TM31, a $2000 all-in-one kitchen appliance with a sketchy record.

An estimated 105,000 Thermomix TM31 appliances were recalled in October 2014 – a month after it was replaced by the TM5 – due to a defect that led to people being scalded or burned.

The ACCC is alleging Thermomix made false representations and misled consumers when it denied any knowledge of safety issues, allowing them "to continue to supply the TM31".

Not only did Thermomix know of the safety issues, but the ACCC claims the company failed to file 14 reports detailing "serious" injuries within the mandatory 48-hour timeframe.

"Suppliers must act swiftly to notify their customers as soon as they learn of a potential safety hazard with their products," says Delia Rickard, acting chair of the ACCC.

"This requirement exists to protect the safety of Australian consumers by helping to prevent further injuries," she adds.

Additional allegations centre around Thermomix's dismissal of protected consumer rights in its after sales support.

Owners with faulty Thermomixes were strong-armed into signing contracts in order to get a refund, replacement or repair. These agreements contained non-disclosure clauses and provisions stopping them from "making disparaging comments about Thermomix".

Others were flat out told Thermomix "would not provide refunds or replacements as a remedy at any time"; a claim the ACCC says contravenes Australian Consumer Law.

CHOICE brought Thermomix's conduct to the attention of the ACCC more than 12 months ago. News of the court case was welcomed by Matt Levey, the director of campaigns, before he added more can be done to ensure products are safe.

"The allegations against Thermomix are serious and go to the heart of Australia’s product safety protections," he says.

"It's further evidence of why the government needs to lift the veil of secrecy from mandatory product safety reporting. Since 2011 more than 10,000 reports have been made but only eight of these have seen the light of day."

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, injunctions, corrective publication orders, compliance program orders and costs. Proceedings commence next month in Melbourne.

Kitchen essential or dust collector?

With a hefty price tag, adding a Thermomix to your kitchen collection is no impulse buy. And with plenty of new competitors now on the market at a range of price points, you'll be wanting to weigh up your options and work out if one of these machines is for you.

Update: Some TM31 models were subject to a 2014 recall due to a faulty sealing ring which could cause hot liquid to escape. Affected customers should have been sent a replacement, but all Thermomix users should check the ring regularly for wear and tear, and replace it every two years. See CHOICE starts a Thermoburn campaign below.

Video: CHOICE's Kate Browne reveals whether her Thermomix was worth the expense

{YouTube Video}

Like plenty of people, my partner and I did a lot of reading and research before deciding to bite the bullet and buy our Thermomix. But despite my excitement I have to admit that I was still nervous that I'd just bought an extremely expensive dust collector.

So, a couple of years into having this fancy looking piece of equipment on my countertop, is my Thermomix more likely to be collecting dust or cooking dinner? While the best answer to that will be found in our expert kitchen test, here are some of my overall impressions:

The good

Unlike other kitchen appliances that need to be dragged out and pieced together every time you need to use it, the Thermomix is surprisingly compact with minimal parts. It's designed to live on the benchtop and with a flick of a switch it's ready to go.

Hands free:
As a mum of two young kids I've lost lost count of the meals I've burned or overcooked, having been called away from the stove to break up a fight, clean up spilled drinks, or carry around a clingy toddler. As for meals that require constant stirring like risotto or polenta – they were off the list altogether. The Thermomix is set-and-forget, with a timer and the ability to stir while cooking. This, best of all, means no burning.

Vegie smuggling:
If you've ever battled to get your kids to eat their vegies, the Thermomix is a great partner in crime when it comes to sneaking vegetables into meals. With a powerful set of blades it can pulverise carrots, celery, broccoli and more which can be blended into pasta sauces, risottos and soups. So far, even my fussiest eater is none the wiser.

Cooking from scratch:
Even a reluctant baker (me) has been coaxed into cooking from scratch with this machine. Muffins can be whipped up and shoved into the oven in minutes. Biscuits and even pastry are equally easy and fast. Other fast favourites include smoothies and juices – all whipped up in seconds.

Cooking for dummies:
The guided cooking functions mean that even a complete kitchen novice can follow the step-by-step instructions and produce some pretty impressive basic dishes such as pizza dough or biscuits.

Making other things: 
If you're feeling adventurous you can even use your Thermo to whip up things like your own laundry detergent, body scrub and moisturiser.

The not so good

While the Thermomix can do a lot, it doesn't do everything.

It can't brown or caramelise, and if you want to slow cook something the timer only runs to a maximum of an hour.

Ice cream?
While the machine can certainly beat ice-cubes and whatever takes your fancy into a delicious sorbet – it doesn't really make a true ice-cream (despite some misconceptions out there).

While the food it cooks is tasty, I personally don't think you can get the same subtlety of flavour as you'll get on the stovetop.

A different way of cooking:
Learning to cook differently is a bit of a drag at first. It took some time, effort and practice to learn how to get the best out of my machine.

Horses for courses:
If you aren't time pressured and love to spend an hour sipping wine and lovingly stirring your risotto then this may not be the machine for you. But if you're time poor and want a kitchen workhorse, a Thermomix or one of the new all-in-one kitchen machines on the market might be a savvy buy. 

Burnt, in more ways than one

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) came into effect in 2011 and established a new code of rights for Australian consumers. One of its central provisions is that products have to be of acceptable quality, which means they have to be safe, durable and free of defects. If they're not, you're entitled to a refund.

We think that's a pretty fair deal, but some players in the consumer marketplace seem to still be getting their heads around the details – especially the local sales team for the famed all-in-one kitchen machine Thermomix.

Our investigation, detailed below, has given rise to an investigation by the ACCC, which is currently underway.

In this investigation we cover: 

Timely ACL review

With a review of the ACL currently under way, we've been tracking what appears to be one of the more notable household product failures in recent years – the Thermomix TM31.

The unit, which retailed for about $2000 until it was superseded by the Thermomix TM5 (which costs about the same), has become an object of worshipful devotion for many of its owners, who express pride at having the king of all kitchen machines in their cupboard.

But the TM31 has also become a source of bitter disappointment to those who shelled out the $2000 and ended up getting burnt – some of them literally. 

Great machine – when it works

The devotion to this wunderkind of a kitchen unit is understandable. In our previous review of all-in-one kitchen machines, published in December 2015, the TM31 was the second-highest scorer of the nine machines tested. Which machine came in first? The Thermomix TM5, which scored better when we tested it than the new lineup of all-in-one machines in our most recent test.

But both the TM31 and the TM5 lack a safety feature that's built in to a number of the these latest machines which prevents users from blending hot liquids at high speeds.

We've now added this to our testing criteria: to score well on safety, all-in-one kitchen machines will have to have a cut-out feature to prevent hot liquids from spilling out.

Aside from the safety issue, the TM31 is probably worth the money when it works as advertised, but the quality of customer service by the local sales team is another matter.

And according to numerous reports that have come our way,  the machine can be dangerously unsafe, to the extent that a critical part of the TM31 model ended up on Australia's national product recall site in 2014, though Thermomix has adamantly refused to call the incident a recall. The ACCC, on the other hand, has confirmed that a voluntary recall was in fact issued and that 'recall' is the correct term. 

Safety risk

More than a few scalding incidents have been attributed to failure of the faulty part, a $15 sealing ring for the mixing bowl, which is meant to be replaced every two years – though apparently only a small proportion of Thermomix owners are aware of this critical detail.

CHOICE has received reports from consumers that say Thermomix knew about the safety risk well before October 2014, when the recall site notice was posted.

Under mandatory reporting requirements, Thermomix Australia would have had to report any injuries to the ACCC that occurred before the faulty part was listed on the recalls site.

We asked the ACCC if this had happened but were told "we are generally required by law to maintain that information in confidence, unless given permission to disclose it publicly".

In March, we launched a poll to find out how many Thermomix owners knew about the two-year replacement rule. At last count, 3127 people had completed our poll, and only 718 (23%) of them knew they were supposed to replace the ring. That means 77% were unaware that the ring needs replacing to prevent a possible scalding incident.

Meanwhile, Thermomix Australia has assured CHOICE through their local legal team that replacement sealing rings had been sent to all affected TM31 owners as of November 2014. Those rings will be due for replacement in November this year. 

Case studies – mass incident report

The discrepancy between expectation and experience among the many disgruntled Thermomix owners we've heard from has been so stark that we decided to escalate the issue.

In late March we launched our 'Thermoburn' campaign with an eye to filing a mass incident report with the ACCC, the first of its kind as far as we're aware. We asked Thermomix owners to let us know if they'd had issues with or been injured by their machines, and the response was swift.

Between 29 March and 9 May 2016, 87 Thermomix owners filled out our mass incident form and reported a problem with their machine (83 with the TM31 model and four with the TM5). Forty-five reported being injured, and 18 of the injured said they received medical treatment.

Fifty-three people complained to Thermomix about an incident, and ten of the injured who had sought treatment from a doctor or a nurse said they reported the incident to Thermomix Australia, in one case as early as 2013. And many Thermomix owners who had been sent new green sealing rings told us the new part didn't fix the problem.

Here's a brief sample of some of the many comments that have come our way. 

"Bullying tactics"

"I bought a TM31 in 2013 and it was then listed by the company as one of the faulty machines. Although I contacted the company a number of times they refused point-blank to address my concerns or to issue me with a refund. This is despite the fact I was burnt by hot soup when using it with the old seal.

"The company's behaviour has been abhorrent throughout. They have used bullying tactics, ignored consumer law, and answered every question with the same cut-and-paste response.

"$2000 was a very extravagant and expensive outlay for me to make; never have I made such a purchase before. But despite having a new seal I have never used it for cooking again. It is now simply a ridiculously expensive blender. The company is a serious disgrace and their behaviour is a blight on Australian standards."

- Robyn Egerton

'Take us to court'

"On delivery of the TM31 my husband brought to the delivery consultant's attention the loose seal that wouldn't engage in place. Her response was 'it was normal', so we accepted that this was what it was supposed to be like. We also asked about the rumoured new model prior to purchase and were told that there was not going to be a new model released in the near future.

"If we had known we would have waited to purchase the new model five months later. When the recall came in October 2014 we were angry that we had been deceived and straight away I emailed Thermomix refusing a replacement seal and demanding a refund.

"Customer Service at Thermomix was frustrating and I felt intimidated by them and was also told by customer service that to get a refund I had to take them to court. Phone calls from Thermomix customer service ... affected my health and drained my energy."

– Anonymity requested

All the way to the NCA Tribunal

"My TM31 started playing up within a couple of months of buying it. I had issues with the motor stalling when following instructions from their own cook book, the motor stopping, error messages being displayed, the machine flashing 'open' when the lid was on and speed was at maximum. The most concerning issue of all was that the lid unlocked whilst it was operating.

"Not only did I notify Thermomix of this, but I also sent them the videos. They refused to refund and demanded I send in the machine. I told them that I didn't want it repaired, I wanted a full refund as the machine was sold to me as 'German technology' that would last me 20 years. It didn't even last me two months.

"A fight ensued for the next few months and then, realising that I was getting nowhere with Thermomix, I lodged a complaint with NCAT [NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal]. The hearing was scheduled for a month's time. Two days before the hearing, Thermomix's lawyer contacted me and used scare tactics and bullying to try and get me to sign off on a confidentiality agreement. The method they were using was dirty and disgusting and there was no way I was going to relent to bullies.

"I really hope that some long overdue retribution comes Thermomix's way before anyone else gets seriously hurt."

– Keira (whose refund was ordered by NCAT without any confidentiality agreement). 

Non-disclosure agreements

Aside from the product failure issue itself, Thermomix Australia has taken a belligerent stance toward customers who complain.

Instead of offering prompt refunds to customers who reported being injured or who had other problems with their TM31 machines, the local sales team resorted to hardball tactics.

In what may be an all-time low in customer service for a high-end product, Thermomix attempted to force customers to sign non-disclosure agreements – or gag orders – in exchange for a mere refund, not medical costs or other damages.

Acting for Thermomix, an Australian law firm wrote to customers saying, "the terms of the deed of settlement [refund of the cost of the machine] are strictly confidential and must not be disclosed to any person (but including via social media) without prior written consent".

And customers had to agree "not to disparage or otherwise comment negatively about Thermomix or Vorwerk [the German manufacturer] and not to take any action which it is intended, or would reasonably be expected, to harm the reputation of Thermomix or Vorwerk, or lead to unwanted or unfavourable publicity".

A number of Thermomix owners who contacted CHOICE refused to sign such agreements. 

Culture of bullying? 

Hardball tactics also came into play within the Australian-based sales team and ultimately infused the entire Thermomix Australia culture, according to one 'consultant' (lead salesperson) who was previously a branch manager and group leader and spoke to CHOICE on condition of anonymity.

"There was bullying and intimidation from top to bottom," the woman said, referring to the three-tiered structure.

She claims a number of Thermomix sales staffers have left the business in response to mistreatment by profit-minded managers. And, says the woman, Thermomix Australia was aware the TM5 was on the way but deliberately misled the Australian public in an effort to sell off excess TM31 stock.

"I myself knew about the TM5 five months before it was released, and the company obviously knew as well," the consultant said. "The bigger the operations here in Australia got, the greedier Thermomix Australia got."

It's a view that jibes with comments we've received from Thermomix owners, including Phil, quoted below.

Unloading outdated TM31s

"I ordered my Thermomix TM31 on 2 August 2014, shortly before the announcement of the new TM5. At the time, we had specifically asked the consultant if a new model was on the horizon as my wife had asked about becoming a consultant. The consultant's response was, 'no, the TM31 is a tried and tested product with a very low defect rate and looks like it will be around for many years to come'. 

"The locking mechanism on the lid on our machine was a bit dodgy, and we subsequently received a new lid and seal as part of the recall. That did not fix that problem completely, however, just made it stiff and difficult to close. The whole lid issue had made me suspect the surprise launch of the TM5 was due to a known defect with the TM31 rather than a marketing strategy. We are left feeling ripped off, misled and sold a faulty product by Thermomix."

CHOICE gave Thermomix Australia a Shonky award in 2014 for its handling of the TM5 release. Meanwhile, Thermomix has informed Phil that, despite the issue with his machine, he does not meet the criteria for a refund.

Thermomix Australia responds

We gave Thermomix Australia an opportunity to respond to what we uncovered during this investigation, particularly whether it was aware of the TM31 issue well before the sealing ring was recalled and whether it now acknowledged that 'recall' was the right term. The company declined to address these points but told us "the safety, well being and support of our customers is and always will be our highest priority".

The 'black box' furphy

A number of Thermomix owners have apparently been told to return their machines to the company so one of its components, the 'black box', can be analysed to determine the cause of the lid failure and other malfunctions. But one longtime Thermomix Australia consultant and former branch manager and group leader told us the black box only records weight and time of use. "They [Thermomix Australia] are lying when they say it will tell you what happened with the lid." 

What to do if you've been burnt

If you've had an incident with your Thermomix machine, public safety lawyer Dimi Ioannou of the law firm Maurice Blackburn offers a few tips on what to do next.

  • Locate your receipt, and then contact the person you bought the machine from and ask for a refund under Australian Consumer Law on the grounds that your machine is not of acceptable quality.
  • Write a detailed letter about the incident or nature of the malfunction to the manufacturer, Vorwerk Elektowerke.
  • If Thermomix Australia asks you to mail your machine in for inspection, request that a Thermomix representative come to you instead.
  • If you do mail your machine in, ask to be reimbursed for postage.
  • Be advised that you are likely entitled to compensation for any expenses, medical or otherwise, you incur as result of a Thermomix malfunction.

Are you a CHOICE member with a Thermomix issue? Our CHOICE Help team may be able to help.

Turning up the heat on Thermomix

CHOICE is calling on Thermomix owners who have suffered injury at the hands of their machines to contribute to a mass incident report to the ACCC.

Following numerous reports from consumers to CHOICE of Thermomix burns, we've launched a 'Thermoburn' campaign to spur a speedier resolution to this ongoing issue. Been burnt? Let us know.

As any Thermomix devotee would be aware, a critical part of the TM31 model ended up on Australia’s national product recall site in 2014.

The part in question, the sealing ring, costs $15. The machine itself (now distributed as the TM5, after the TM31 was superseded in late 2014) runs in the $2000 price range. The faulty ring has apparently been the cause of injury to more than a few Thermomix owners.

And many Thermomix owners might not know that the sealing ring is meant to be replaced every two years (see Regular replacement, below).  

Read Claims Thermomix exploding mixing bowl still a safety risk, below for some background on the sealing ring saga.

By now, owners of affected TM31 machines (service numbers 124231xx – 142031xx) should have received their new sealing rings. The old ones pose a risk of scalding when the machine is operated at speed setting four or above and then switched to the 'lid-open' position, as hot liquids can spew out.

Judging by anecdotal evidence made available to CHOICE, it's not an entirely uncommon experience – and some of the burns we've seen look pretty bad.

The social media shots sent through to us have been posted by people who claim to have suffered injury at the hands of their Thermomix machines. 

Right to a refund? 

Thermomix can apparently play hardball when it comes to customers seeking a refund. One such customer, whose Thermomix TM31 has reportedly suffered multiple failures, recently contacted us and claimed the company tried to pressure her into signing a confidentiality agreement in exchange for any refund.

CHOICE has seen examples of Thermomix non-disclosure agreements, which forbid Thermomix owners who relinquish their machines for a refund from criticising the product or company in public, including on social media.

The matter for the customer mentioned above ended up with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal months after the woman initially brought the issues to the company's attention, and the Tribunal ended up awarding the woman a full refund without any confidentiality agreement. 

Meanwhile, Thermomix makers Vorwerk Elektowerke have assured CHOICE, through their local legal team, that replacement sealing rings had been sent to all affected TM31 owners as of November 2014.

Regular replacement

What it didn't mention is that those replacement sealing rings on the Thermomix TM31 will need to be replaced again later this year – at least according to the company's PR team in Australia. 

"As a precaution, the seal on TM31 appliances should be replaced every two years," the PR firm Cannings Purple told CHOICE on 4 March.

We hadn't heard this before, and neither had a few dedicated Thermomix owners we talked to.

We're following up on this issue because we think consumers have a right to expect better communication and follow-up from the maker of such a high-end product.

Claims faulty sealing ring still causing problems

Correction: A previous version of this article said that customers were still waiting on sealing rings, expected to arrive in Australia within the next three weeks. This was incorrect, and has been rectified in the current version on advice from Vorwerk.

A faulty sealing ring in some TM31 Thermomix models is still causing problems. In 2014, the issue led to a listing on Australia's national product recalls site, which warned that users could be scalded if the Thermomix is switched to the lid-open position at high speed.

"In rare circumstances, the potential product defect could lead to a scald or burn for the user if liquid or food splashes out of the mixing bowl," the recalls site says.

Who knew food processing could be so dangerous, especially when it's the king of all kitchen units in question?

Thermomix owners have recently posted social media shots of what they claim are burns from such incidents, as well as video of hot liquid spilling out of the bowl.

"If you have an old model Thermomix and have concerns around the product's safety, don't hesitate to contact the company. And you can seek a remedy under Australian Consumer Law," said CHOICE spokesperson and head of content Tom Godfrey.

Thermomix supplier, Vorwerk Elektowerke, didn't think consumers should be too concerned back when the product warning was published. 

A legal representative of the manufacturer says it has now sent new mixing bowl sealing rings to all potentially affected Australian customers who own Thermomix TM31 appliances.

Thermomix safety tips

According to Vorwerk, customers can continue to safely use any potentially affected products by following these steps:

1. After using speeds of level 4 or above, turn the speed selector down to level 1.
2. Leave the speed selector on level 1 for three seconds.
3. Turn the speed selector to 'open lid' and carefully open the lid.

What CHOICE wants

It's simple – we think there's still an issue out there and have asked the ACCC to intervene.

"We have asked the ACCC to investigate the advice to consumers about how to safely use the product," says Mr Godfrey.

Thermomix set for 'showdown'

An irreverent spaghetti western-style video from CHOICE is taking aim at the all-in-one kitchen appliance market, as rivals to the expensive Thermomix hit the high street with shiny and cheaper alternatives.

At least six competitors to Thermomix have entered the market in recent times, with significant differences when it comes to pricing and performance.

The satirical video comes in the wake of Thermomix's flawed launch of its TM5 model, which last year earned it an infamous CHOICE Shonky Award for 'choppy communication', for releasing the brand-new machine without notice and sending the consumers who’d just paid full-price for the superseded model into a spin.

Serving up our spaghetti western

With the new all-in-one kitchen appliance rivals in town, CHOICE's in-house team decided to stir things up with a spaghetti western-style video.

Starring The Checkout's – and CHOICE's own – Kate Browne, The Good, The Cheap and The Shiny draws inspiration from Hollywood with Thermomix, KitchenAid and Bellini pitched against each other in a three-way shootout in a saloon on the high street.

Video: Thermomix showdown - Thermomix, KitchenAid and Bellini are pitted against one another

{YouTube Video}

The satirical spaghetti western style video will run on Facebook and YouTube during June.

For those who want to see the shootout, in true spaghetti western fashion CHOICE filmed some bonus footage.

Video: Thermomix shootout - Bonus footage

{YouTube Video} 

How do the Thermomix rivals stack up?

On the serious side of things, a comprehensive product comparison is also available for CHOICE members, with the results of our rigorous lab testing. It compares the Thermomix TM5, KitchenAid Cook Processor, Bellini Supercook Kitchen Master, Hotmix Pro Gastro, MyCook Premium, Thermochef Natura and Tefal Cuisine Companion against 23 criteria, including price, ease of use and cooking performance.

With the Thermomix more expensive than most rivals with its $2000 price tag, a lot of consumers will be asking themselves whether or not it's worth the expense. Before stretching the family finances, it might be worth seeing how it stacks up against its rivals.

  • Is the thermomix – or any of its similarly priced competitors – really worth the expense? Read what Kate Browne from CHOICE and ABC's The Checkout has to say about her experience.
  • See how the Thermomix rivals stack up in our comprehensive review.

Thermomix ShonkysThermomix's TM5, which in Australia costs just $50 more than its predecessor the TM31, was released on 6 September with no prior warning, and some new owners took delivery of their full-price TM31s as late as a day or two before. Consumers told us they asked about the rumoured new model when they were buying their TM31s, and were assured there was no upgrade on the horizon. And those who bought a TM31 with hopes of a high resale value may well be sorely disappointed – loyal Thermo fans lost hundreds of dollars off the value of their TM31s overnight.

When it comes to other high-value purchases like smartphones, consumers are used to being warned before a new product goes on sale so they can make an informed decision about whether to wait. If a company refuses to do this, at the very least they should make sure their sales representatives aren't giving customers misleading information in the lead-up to launch.

Thermomix Australia did eventually offer various sweeteners to those who had bought their TM31 after 1 July. But for many consumers, it's a case of too little too late. And if you thought things couldn't get any worse, the TM31s were the subject of an ACCC recall due to a fault that could make affected machines splash out hot liquid.

For being less than upfront with loyal Thermo fans about the release of its new TM5 model, selling the TM31 at full price and delivering it right up to the day before the launch, and receiving the highest number of public nominations in Shonkys history, we were left with no choice but to juice the Vorwerk/Thermomix lemon.

TM5 surprise release

Thermomix Australia has caused a stir amongst consumers by releasing a brand new model without any notice.

In the same week when months of anticipation came to a head at Apple's high-profile iPhone 6 launch, Thermomix – whose cult appliance comes with a hefty price tag of almost $2000 – released the shiny new TM5 model on Saturday without any prior warning, surprising even the most fervent "Thermo" fans.

What's left a bad taste in consumers' mouths is that fact that many new owners only ordered or took ownership of the outdated model the TM31 as late as the day before the release of the new model, which is the same price as its predecessor.

As a result, hundreds of TM31's have already hit sites such as eBay and Gumtree at heavily discounted prices. And while it’s a great time to buy a second-hand Thermomix, many of those who have paid the same price for what is now an out-of-date model are not so thrilled.

Consumer response

CHOICE has been inundated with angry consumers venting their frustration at the move. Many new owners have told us that they asked about the rumoured new model when they were buying their TM31s, and were told there was no new model on the horizon. Several of the owners who contacted us said they took ownership of their now outdated machines only days before the new release.

One recent purchaser said: "I purchased a Thermomix recently after directly asking the consultant if there were a new model coming out. She denied there was any new model. A month later, the new Thermomix is released."

Another said: "I've only had my machine for two weeks and was not given the option to purchase the old model at a reduced rate OR buy the new model."

The release of the new model has also raised concerns around servicing and parts for the TM31, as well as the additional support provided to "Thermo" owners in the form of cooking classes, demonstrations and cookbooks, which are now slated to be focused on the new model only.

Some owners are so frustrated that they have even set up a petition.

Thermomix's response

Thermomix has now issued a statement regarding the controversy. No word on whether any compensation will be offered to those who have recently purchased the now superseded TM31, but they have indicated they are dealing with complaints.

The Thermomix statement in full

"Thanks for taking the time to contact us to express your disappointment, we apologise for our delayed response.

The Australian launch of the Thermomix Model 5 was conducted in line with global brand compliance in accordance with our distribution arrangements. We are deeply sorry that this has resulted in some customers feeling disappointed.

As you can appreciate we value every one of our customers so this is not an ideal situation for everyone involved and we understand your position and take it very seriously.

The TM31 is and always will be an excellent appliance and will continue to be supported just as we have with the previous model the TM21 and we ask for your patience as we work towards addressing your concerns.

Please understand that we also have a commitment to support the broader Thermomix community with the posting of recipes and tips on our Facebook page. We are currently working with our team to address the concerns of those customers that recently purchased a TM31 and will continue to be committed to providing the best level of service to our very passionate customer base in the hope that we can continue our Thermomix journey together."

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