There are many different types of product recalls that happen on a daily basis within the United States, and most are not even covered by the media—usually only those that are striking to the public ear are reported in the news. This article helps to simplify the U.S. product recall system so you can easily understand product categories, how recalls are classified and handled, and the governing bodies for each specific type.

Product recalls can be initiated by a manufacturer or by the government agency that oversees the specific type of product. However, many can start with a consumer complaint, illness, or injury. Recalls are conducted to cease sales of the item or to instruct the consumer to throw it away, while other recalls ask that the product be returned to the point of sale where it can be replaced or repaired.

The most common types of product recalls include:

  • Food
  • Cosmetics
  • Medication
  • Toys
  • Child safety seats
  • Vehicles

Three major types of product recalls and their governing agencies

Product recalls are broken down into three main categories which are then enforced by specific government agencies, these include:

  1. Food and drug recalls:  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) help enforce recalls related to things you ingest (food, beverages, and drugs). Technically, the USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products that are out of the shell while the FDA regulates all other foods and beverages—over 80% of the U.S. food supply including dairy, seafood, produce, packaged goods, human drugs, and pet food and veterinary medication. The following is a chart that breaks down the exact categories:

FDA recalls fall into three classes:

  • Class 1: products that can cause serious injury or death harm
  • Class 2: products that might cause serious injury or temporary illness
  • Class 3: products that unlikely cause injury or illness, but violate FDA regulations
  1. Vehicle-related recalls:  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) governs vehicle-related recalls. This agency is responsible for:

    – Setting and enforcing safety performance standards for motor vehicles and equipment and conduct local highway safety programs
    – Investigate safety defects in motor vehicles, set and enforce fuel economy standards, and help states and local communities reduce threat of drunk drivers, promote the use of safety belt use, child safety seats and airbags, investigate odometer fraud, establish and enforce vehicle anti-theft regulations and provide consumer information on motor vehicle safety topics.
  1. Other product-related recalls:  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPSC) has jurisdiction over many types of consumer products from cribs and child safety seats to house-hold items, toys, and fireworks. These recalls are initiated by either consumer complaints or the product manufacturer for defects that can cause injury or that violate mandatory standards. The agency’s main tasks include:

    – Work with industries to develop voluntary product standards
    – Issue mandatory standards
    – Enforce standards, issue recalls or repairs or product bans
    – Conduct independent research on potential hazards
    – Respond to consumer inquires and complaints
    – Inform and educate consumers via media or government channels


Erica Bakota, “FDA vs. USDA: What’s the Difference?”, Gov Loop, Aug. 22, 2019

Regulated Products”, Federal Drug Administration, Jan. 7, 2020

Who We Are—What We Do for You”, Consumer Product Safety Commission

Heather Tamada-Hosley, “The Three Major Types of Product Recalls and How They’re Different”, June 15, 2015

Disclaimer: Berkley Global Product Recall is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.