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How to Spot Unsafe Toys – S2 E13

In this episode, get the safety tips and shopping advice you need to help you make safe holiday gift-buying decisions for your children.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez sits down with Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog for Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and author of the Trouble in Toyland 2022 report, to talk about how to avoid buying counterfeit or recalled toys and how to spot safety hazards in the toy aisle.

Podcast Resources:
Guest: Teresa Murray
Trouble in Toyland 2022 Report
Consumer Product Safety Commission: Recalls
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. She is married, has two young children, and loves reading (anything except parenting books!) and watching movies and TV. She loves to spend time with her kids (when they aren’t driving her crazy) and celebrating all of their little, and big, accomplishments. Jessica has been in the field of family and child development for over 20 years, working towards normalizing the hard work of parenting and making it easier to ask the hard questions.

host Guest: Teresa Murray is Consumer Watchdog for Public Interest Group and author of the Trouble in Toyland 2022 report


[00:00:00] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Whether you’re an experienced parent or expecting your first child, this podcast has tips and tricks to help you navigate parenthood.

[00:00:23] We’ll give you all the information you need to know and answers to questions you may not realize you have, coming up next.[00:00:30]

[00:00:34] Welcome back to another episode of The Parenting Brief. The holiday season is here and for many families, that involves gift giving. And while we can’t help you pick the perfect toy for your child, we can give you some advice on the kinds of toys to avoid because of safety concern. Today’s guest tells us what to look out for when shopping for new toys and tips to minimize toy related injuries in your home.[00:01:00]

[00:01:02] With us today is Teresa Murray, the consumer watchdog for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, and author of the Trouble in Toyland Report. Thanks for joining us today, Teresa.

[00:01:12] Teresa Murray: Happy to be with you.

[00:01:14] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: As a parent myself, I can say that I have made the assumption at times that if a toy or baby product is on the shelf, then it is a safe product, and then once a recall does happen, that item is immediately removed from the shelves or [00:01:30] pulled off of online stores.

[00:01:32] In your report, you say that just because a toy is for sale doesn’t mean it’s safe. Why is that?

[00:01:39] Teresa Murray: That’s correct. There’s a couple things. We did look at recalls in our report and everybody always says, you know, these things shouldn’t be for sale. So like you said, if something’s on the shelf, you assume it’s safe, it’s fine.

[00:01:51] But we set out to buy half of the toys that had been recalled this year, and we were actually able to buy and get in our [00:02:00] hands more than 30 toys that were in my dining room for a period of a few weeks. So I mean, that’s a big problem that these retailers are not removing items from their online listings and in some cases from the shelves.

[00:02:15] Although, to be clear, we only used online marketplaces.

[00:02:20] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: You also talk about counterfeit and recalled toys. Do we see more of that counterfeit when you’re doing online shopping?

[00:02:29] Teresa Murray: Oh, [00:02:30] absolutely, absolutely. You’re not gonna find very many counterfeit toys or any other products for that matter in your mainstream department stores, big box stores, whatever, because you know, they know who they’re buying from.

[00:02:42] They know the manufacturers, they have relationships. They’re not buying from people on street corners. Whereas the online marketplaces, I mean, you know, even some of the bigger names, there is not as much transparency with where they’re actually getting their products from. So, I mean, this is something that Customs and Border [00:03:00] Protection really tries to crack down on.

[00:03:01] And there are a lot of counterfeit products, toys, and other things that are seized at our ports every year, but they can’t get everything. So the counterfeit toys are just an incredible problem.

[00:03:13] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: And is there a way to easily identify whether or not something is counterfeit or even recalled?

[00:03:20] Teresa Murray: Well recall is easy and you can go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, which is [00:03:30]

[00:03:33] And you can do a keyword search for a toy. You don’t have to have the full, proper name of the toy. If you get a couple of the words right, as long as they’re spelled right. I don’t think it corrects for misspellings. And you can find out whether a toy has been recalled. And on that point, it’s really important for parents, maybe you have toys that you bought your kids six months ago for their birthday, or last year for Christmas, whatever, or maybe they were used by an older sibling. So it’s been a few years. [00:04:00] It’s really important from time to time for parents to look at the toys that their kids are playing with most frequently at least, and just, you know, take five minutes and run those toys through the recall website and make sure that since you bought it, it hasn’t been recalled.

[00:04:16] So that’s, that’s really important. And then as far as counterfeits, I mean, that can be a little more tricky, what we advise people to do is buy from online sellers that you trust, ones that you’ve done business with before. [00:04:30] A lot of times if you’re reading a listing for a counterfeit toy, the wording might be kind of sketchy.

[00:04:36] You know, they’re just, a lot of times clues, look for reviews, and if you’re not seeing a lot of reviews. And another big thing is say you’re looking at an online listing for say a certain kind of very specific doll. Okay? And we’ll just call it the ABC doll. Well, if it’s for sale on this website, you should be able to go to the ABC Doll’s [00:05:00] own website.

[00:05:00] Like that toy should be listed on the manufacturer’s website. So if you can’t find that same toy listed on a manufacturer’s website, independent of the seller, then that could be a problem. I mean, it does require some homework, but obviously our kids’ health and safety are important.

[00:05:17] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So some parents may think that a specific recall may not be that big of a deal, or the risk of injury isn’t that great depending on the recall, is it ever okay to ignore the recall? And how many [00:05:30] injuries or deaths occur as a result of a toy related

[00:05:33] injury?

[00:05:34] Teresa Murray: Well on the recalls. I mean, toys are recalled for a reason and it’s because they represent a danger now, you know? And I would never encourage somebody to ignore a recall.

[00:05:43] And if a toy is recalled, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement. And if that’s your child’s favorite toy and you’re like, oh gosh, you know, this is awful, that it’s been recalled, well then, you know, contact the manufacturer, the CPSC always gives the instructions on how to get a replacement and just [00:06:00] get another one that was made better.

[00:06:01] You know, it could look like the exact same toy, so your kid will never know, except it’ll be gone for a few weeks. And on the injuries, and this was something that was really interesting to us when we looked at it, is, you know, every year you have about 200,000 toy related injuries among people who are hurt enough or sick enough from a toy to actually go into an emergency room.

[00:06:21] So, you know, we’re not talking like a little cut or a scrape or something here. But of those 79,000 are age four [00:06:30] or younger, so you know, like 40%. So 79,000 kids, four and under are going to the emergency room during the year that we looked at for 2020. But the statistics are pretty consistent. And so a lot of these are injuries that frankly could be avoided.

[00:06:48] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: What are some safety points parents with children under the age of five need to be aware of?

[00:06:53] Teresa Murray: Yeah, I mean these are kind of like not obvious things cause we talk about, you know, balloons and small balls and those kinds of [00:07:00] things. Magnets, you mentioned, those can be dangerous, but a few things that folks may not think of is, a lot of times you get toys for like infants and there maybe there’s like a mirror on it and it’ll have a plastic film covering on the toy to protect the little mirror thing during shipping. And so parents should make a point to remove any of those little film coverings because it can be a choking hazard to a child. And another thing that’s kind of on the radar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you start hearing more about this, are water beads.[00:07:30]

[00:07:30] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Oh, yes.

[00:07:30] Teresa Murray: And I don’t know whether you know what those are.

[00:07:32] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Yes, I have been hearing about those.

[00:07:34] Teresa Murray: Yeah. It’s a, it’s a growing concern and so I would really, really urge families who have water beads in their home. If you have young children, like under five, just don’t have ’em right now. I mean, you know, I’m not saying that all brands, all models, whatever, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into this and there have been a number of reports of children getting choked and getting, having to go to the hospital and [00:08:00] have surgery because these little water beads, it could be like a little tiny, baby size thing and it can actually expand to the size of a tennis ball.

[00:08:08] So these are serious injuries. Some kids do not fare well, you know, after the surgery and just it’s not worth it. There are other things out there that kids can play with. And then probably a last thing for young kids, and again, this is something that parents may not necessarily think of offhand, is to watch out for painted jewelry and you know, any kind of like cheap [00:08:30] metal toys where it seems like the paint might chip off easily, because I mean, we all know that children, especially young children, put things in their mouths. And what we’re finding is that a lot of times these objects can contain lead. And of course we know what, what harmful impact that has on baby’s brains and their neurological systems.

[00:08:48] And you know, and frankly, if you’ve noticed this, we’ve had a lot of recalls lately for lead in products and not even just toys. I mean, we had sippy cups and we had pajamas, [00:09:00] and I don’t know why, why manufacturers are allowing lead to get in their products. But if it’s something that your kid could put in their mouth, then families need to be aware.

[00:09:16] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: For more information on toy safety and the 2022 Trouble in Toy Land Report, take a look at the show notes. Make sure to follow the show wherever you listed to podcasts so you get a notification every time we release a new [00:09:30] episode. If you know families or friends shopping for toys this year, please share this episode with them to help keep our little ones safe this holiday season.

[00:09:38] Until next time, this is Jessica. You’ve got this.

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