Consumer Reporting Gets Easier With Safety Alerts

By: Charles Bowen

Product recalls and safety alerts are sometimes the stepchildren in a newsroom. Too often this important consumer information gets relegated to the back pages, simply because the local staff hasn’t had an effective means for routinely gathering the facts.

Traditionally, we usually just let the wire services cover recalls. And they do a good job. The problem is that when the wire dispatches reach our newsrooms — detailing contaminated food, problem-ridden child car seats, faulty electronics and dangerous clothing — the stories usually get pared down to few paragraphs and sandwiched into a hole inside, if they make the paper at all.

Fortunately now, for city editors who want to beef up their local consumer reporting, an important new Web site provides a great daily stream of product safety information, as well as a detailed, searchable database for researching earlier recalls. It even offers an e-mail notification service to track specific types of products.

Webmaster William A. Knegendorf said he started the site called Safety Alerts simply because he discovered how poorly print and broadcast journalists generally cover product recalls. “I am not a paranoid person,” he says in an online statement, “but … I have two boys, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. They will probably get enough bumps and bruises without the help of a defective product.”

Knegendorf created the site to be a central resource for information about recalls. It’s worth adding to your tool belt of online resources. To check it out, visit the site at, where a compact introductory page provides direct links to:

* Current Recalls, statements and stories about the most recent announcements, each dated.
* “Top Ten” Recalls. This is a subjective list maintained by the site. Items are judged by the size of the recall, the hazardous nature of the problem, how widespread product use is, and so on.
* Subject-specific links, with announcements related to food, food allergies, vitamins, drugs, infants and children, toys, car seats, autos, household items, furniture, appliances, electronics, clothing, sports, outdoor items and cosmetics.

Scroll the introductory page for even more links. For instance, lower on the page, along the right side are linked current headlines under the “News & Alerts” heading. Topping the list are general-interest and seasonal items, such as tips for swimming pool safety. Lower on the list are items specifically directed to health professionals and interested laypersons.

The site’s archives also can be searched, using option buttons in the top right column of the main screen. Click the “Search Recalls” button and on the resulting display, then enter a word or phrase in the data entry box. For example, you can enter a product name, a type of product, the name of a city or state or a person. Click the Go button and the site displays a list of hyperlinked headers of files matching your search.

You also can browse the archive by the timestamp on recall information. At the top right of the main screen, click the “Recalls by Date” button. On a subsequent screen, you can click on a month to see a large list of hyperlinked headlines, with the products divided into key categories, such as General Products, Food Items, Vitamins, Drugs and Medicines, Auto and Equipment, and so on.

Other considerations for using Safety Alerts in your writing and editing:

1. One of the more powerful options in the Safety Alert site is its electronic direct notification service. E-mail is sent once daily if new alerts have been issued that match your specifications. Each e-mail contains a short summary of each alert along with a hyperlink that can be clicked for more information. To get in on the service, click the “Sign Up” link at the top of the introductory page and enter your e-mail address on the subsequent page.

2. While browsing the site, be sure to click the “Registrant Warnings” button on the upper right of the main page. This provides a list of recent reports produced by Safety Alert itself and can offer a valuable “heads up” on current concerns over everything from strange e-mail to potentially dangerous products.

3. Another way to browse the site’s massive resources is to click the “Safety Article Archive” button on the introductory screen. This produces a list of hyperlinked headlines of recent additions to the database.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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