Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

May 2014 Archives

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), established in 1981, is tasked with inspecting and ensuring the safety of eggs, cattle, pigs, sheep, and other animals used for human food.

When the FSIS finds something worrisome in your chicken or beef, they will notify the producer or distributor who will then institute a recall. These recalls are then classified (Class I, II, and III) by the FSIS and made public information.

What is the difference between Class I, II, and III recalls?

The main difference between all classes of FSIS recalls is the probability that the affected products will cause injury or death to consumers. The FSIS has no power to institute a recall, these are voluntary on the part of the producer or distributor, but the agency may freeze production and seize questionable food products when companies refuse to recall a good.

Class I Recall

Class I recalls are distinguished by a "reasonable probability" that consuming the recalled products "will cause health problems or death." This includes products which are potentially contaminated with dangerous forms of E. coli (such as E. coli O157:H7).

A Class I recall also requires a "recall release" from the FSIS, where information about the recall is posted both online and distributed to the media. A recent example was the May recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef first recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef due of E. coli poisoning.

Class II Recall

The FSIS will also issue a recall release for a Class II recall, but the potential danger to consumers is less pressing. These recalls involve potential health hazard situations in which there is a "remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food."

These may be cases where small amounts of allergens or foreign material are present (e.g., wheat or soy) and there likely have been no reports of illnesses or injuries related to the products.

Class III Recall

Class III recalls involve no possibility of adverse health consequences from eating the food product, but a recall was still necessary. For these recalls, the FSIS will issue a Recall Notification Report, which is available online -- but not sent to media or wire services. These recalls may include labeling or packaging errors that have no affect on health.

Check out the FSIS website for the latest meat-related recalls.

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Hummus Products Recalled Over Listeria Fears

Food manufacturer Lansal, Inc is voluntarily recalling almost 15,000 pounds of hummus and dips on fears the products could be contaminated with the potentially fatal foodborne bacteria listeria. Lansal, which sells products under the name Hot Mama's Foods to retailers including Trader Joe's and Target, initiated the recall after testing by the Texas Department of Health found potential listeria contamination in a container of Target Archer Farms hummus.

No Illness Yet Reported From Affected Products

According to the FDA press release, no illness has yet been reported in connection with the recall. Listeriosis, the illness caused by consuming listeria-contaminated products, can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches and convulsions. In pregnant women, listeriosis can also lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, or a severe infection in the newborn.

Products affected by the recall include:

  • Hummus sold at Target under the Archer Farms label (including Archer Farms wraps and snackers with hummus as an ingredient),
  • Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus and 5-Layered Dips,
  • Giant Eagle Chipotle Hummus and Garlic Hummus, and
  • Tryst Yellow Lentil Hummus.

Listeria Outbreaks a Serious Threat

Previous foodborne listeria outbreaks included a 2011 outbreak traced to a Colorado cantaloupe producer that eventually killed 30 people and sickened 146 over 28 states. More recently, a 2012 suspected listeria outbreak in ricotta cheese sickened 14 people and forced retailer Whole Foods to recall 4,800 pounds of cheese.

The FDA has hosted packaging photos of the recalled products. If you have purchased any of the products affected by the recall, the FDA recommends that you dispose of the product or return it to the place of purchase for a refund. Consumers who have questions can call the toll-free hotline (877) 550-0694.

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A Michigan meatpacker is recalling 1.8 million pounds of ground beef tainted with E. coli.

The tainted beef, traced to Detroit-based Wolverine Packing, has already caused at least 11 cases of foodborne illness in four states, three which required hospitalization, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Through a statement released to the Detroit Free Press, the company claimed that none of its product had tested positive for the strain of E. coli causing the illnesses. But Wolverine Packing nonetheless "felt it was prudent" to issue the recall.

So where's the (bad) beef?

What Beef Is Included in the Recall?

According to a news release issued by the USDA, the products subject to the recall bear the establishment number "EST. 2547B" and have a production code date between "03 31 14" and "04 18 14."

The products included in the recall were shipped to distribution centers nationwide for use in restaurants and for retail sale. The USDA has posted a full list of the products affected by the recall.

A report on the CDC's website says the 11 people infected with the strain of E. coli implicated in the recall (STEC O157:H7) have so far lived in four states: Michigan, Ohio, Massachusett, and Missouri.

How Dangerous Is This Strain of E. coli?

The current recall is listed by the USDA as a Class I recall, defined as "a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death."

If you believe you have eaten the recalled beef, the CDC advises you to contact your health care provider and look for signs of STEC infection, such as cramps and bloody diarrhea, which usually manifest between two to eight days after ingesting the bacteria. Although most people recover after about a week, children, the elderly, and even otherwise healthy adults can develop fatal complications including hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious kidney disorder.

If you have questions about the recall, you can contact Wolverine Packing Company at (800) 521-1390 or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888)-674-6954.

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5 New GM Recalls Affect 2.7M Vehicles in U.S.

Five new General Motors recalls affecting more than 2.7 million U.S. vehicles has pushed the total number of vehicles recalled by the troubled automaker to 10 million in 2014 alone.

The latest recalls are for a wide range of issues, including faulty brake lights and malfunctioning windshield wipers. The recalls include several GM brands, including Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Saturn.

GM Models Included in Latest Recalls

The makes and models included in the five latest recalls run the spectrum from older models of defunct brands like Saturn to brand new 2014-15 Chevy Silverado pickups. The full list covers:

  • 2004-2012 Chevrolet Malibu, 2004-2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, 2005-2010 Pontiac G6 and 2007-2010 Saturn Aura models for corrosion of a wiring harness that could cause brake light malfunction.

  • 2014 Chevrolet Malibus with 2.5-liter engines for a software issue that could cause hydraulic brake boost failure.

  • 2005-13 Chevrolet Corvettes for a potential low-beam headlamp failure.

  • 2013-14 Cadillac CTS models for windshield wiper failures.

  • 2014-15 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Pickups for a tie-rod failure.

This latest recalls come on the heels of recalls earlier this year of 1.6 million vehicles with faulty ignition switches, 1.18 million midsize SUVs for airbag failure and 1.5 million older vehicles for power steering problems.

The Recall Process

When a defect is discovered in an automobile serious enough to warrant a recall, a manufacturer can either recall the affected vehicles voluntarily or be compelled to by the government. In these latest GM recalls, the vehicles are being recalled voluntarily by GM to fix the defect.

By law, owners of the vehicles included in a recall receive notice by mail. Federal law also mandates that recall repairs be performed free of charge -- or, if the car cannot be repaired, that your car be replaced or your purchase refunded.

However, a recall does not affect your other legal rights including your right to sue for injuries caused by the defect that prompted the recall. Recalls are typically prompted by reports of accidents caused by the manufacturing defect. If you own a recalled a vehicle and have been involved in auto accident or injured as a result of a defective vehicle, a motor vehicle defect lawyer can help explain your options.

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A deadly new "Cold Water Challenge" is gaining ground online, having already claimed one life and several injuries, according to media reports.

The new fad involves posting videos of teens jumping into ice-cold water, which (unsurprisingly) has a very high chance of ending in tragedy. The Post-Crescent reports that Davis Colley, 16, of Minnesota, drowned in a frigid lake last week. Before his death, Colley texted a friend that he was taking part in the "Cold Water Challenge."

What do parents need to know about the "Cold Water Challenge?"

Another Inane Internet Challenge

Move over "Cinnamon Challenge," teens on YouTube and social media have turned to a more deadly form of recreation -- jumping into near-freezing bodies of water. In addition to Colley's death on Friday, a 16-year-old Wisconsin girl "shredded her knee on a clump of zebra mussel shells in Lake Winnebago" earlier this month during a "Cold Water Challenge" attempt, reports the Post-Crescent.

Apparently the challenge is spread much like a chain letter: A person receives a "nomination" over text or social media to perform the "Cold Water Challenge," and in accepting the challenge, that person then nominates several other friends to join the dangerous game.

While this challenge seems similar to the "Polar Plunge," a charity event supporting the Special Olympics, it lacks any noble purpose or safety precautions. Coast Guard officials noted in a press release that "this is a fundamentally unsafe activity" and "needlessly reckless."

Not only do these jumps into cold water lead to drowning, but participants often misjudge the depth of the water, raising the risk of broken limbs and even paralysis. Rescuers also warn against the danger of the "gasp reflex" when hitting cold water, which can lead to drowning, reports the Post-Crescent.

Tips to Avoid a Watery Grave

Despite the inherent risks of diving into icy waters, there are a few ways to keep "Challenge" participants safe(r):

  • Wear a life jacket. Whether you're boating or deciding to take part in the "Challenge," a life jacket will prevent you from becoming a water-logged corpse.
  • Don't jump/dive off piers. This is good advice for pool owners as well: Don't jump or dive into shallow water. If you can't tell how deep it is, assume shallow enough to be dangerous.
  • Participate with friends. Didn't you see "127 Hours"? Don't do extreme sports or challenges alone.
  • Go slowly. You can (more) safely immerse yourself and avoid the "gasp reflex" by getting slowly into the water.

Of course the best way to avoid injury: Avoid taking part in the "Cold Water Challenge." Fifteen seconds of fame on YouTube just isn't worth the risk.

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Snapchat has agreed to increase privacy protections in its settlement with the FTC, following charges that users' photos and videos don't actually "disappear" as advertised.

The app maker will not be fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but it will have to lay off its claims about privacy and confidentiality of its users' data, reports The Washington Post. Snapchat will also be required to implement a new comprehensive privacy program.

What does this FTC settlement mean for Snapchat users?

Snapchat Data Can Be Saved

Snapchat users may have come to this realization already, but their photos and videos may not be as secret and secure as the app makers had advertised. It certainly isn't immune from being hacked, as many users found out in January.

But there's more. The FTC noted in its press release Thursday that Snapchat allegedly misrepresented how "ephemeral" the photos and videos sent by users really are. The FTC also alleges that:

  • Snapchat recipients who connect their devices to a computer could save received videos;
  • Pre-iOS 7 devices could save photos without notifying the sender;
  • Snapchat collected geolocation data from Android users despite saying it wouldn't in its privacy policy;
  • Snapchat collected address book information from iOS users without notice or consent; and
  • Snapchat's "Find Friends" feature, which was linked to the massive breach, was not secure.

As noted in the settlement consent agreement, Snapchat won't be admitting fault for any of these allegations, but in exchange it will have to agree to some privacy changes.

Proposed Privacy Upgrades

In exchange for the FTC dropping their case, Snapchat will have to not only stop misrepresenting its "snaps" as being private, secure, or confidential, it will have to create a comprehensive privacy program.

Just like with Apple's antitrust case, the FTC has ordered that the company shall pay for a third-party monitor to make sure that Snapchat is actually following the terms of their agreement. The privacy monitor will make reports at least every two years for the next 20 years on Snapchat's privacy progress.

The ball is now in Snapchat's court to produce some sort of change in its privacy practices. Users may want to be a bit more cautious about their "snaps" until these changes are made.

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Posting a classified ad on Craigslist is a great way to sell your extra stuff. However, it's also a great way to fall victim to an online scam if you're not careful.

How can you tell when the person replying to your Craigslist ad may be a scammer? Here are five signs that someone might be trying to pull a fast one on you:

1. They Won't Come See the Item in Person.

Although Craigslist is an international website, the actual buying and selling of items should always be done in person. If someone wants you to ship them the item, sight unseen, there is a good chance you're going to get scammed. This also applies to buying items. If you're making a purchase, make sure to see it in person, especially when those items are $5,900 worth of (non-existent) Super Bowl tickets.

2. The Email Reply Doesn't Refer to the Specific Item You're Selling.

If the buyer's email fails to make any specific reference to the item you're selling but rather refers to "the item" or uses other generic terms, there is a good chance that the reply to your ad is the work of a scammer copying and pasting replies to as many potential victims as possible. Use your best judgment: if it sounds fishy, it probably is!

3. The Buyer 'Accidentally' Overpays.

A common Craigslist scam involves a buyer who claims to have inadvertently overpaid for the item, usually by check, and then asks the seller to refund a portion of the payment. The seller then cashes the check and sends the buyer back his money, only to find out the check was a counterfeit. Sellers should also be wary of accepting cashier's checks and money orders as these are frequently fake.

4. They Ask for Personal or Financial Information.

If the person interested buying your guitar on Craigslist suddenly starts asking for your bank account number, Social Security number or other sensitive info, that should be a red flag that the guitar isn't what they're really interested in. It's also a good idea when selling a computer, cell phone, or other electronic device to double-check that you've deleted any and all personal information from the device. Even vehicles can sometimes store personal information, like Vice President Joe Biden's old Cadillac (which was recently advertised on Craigslist).

5. The Buyer Refuses to Meet at a Public Place.

Less sophisticated scammers sometimes opt for a simpler alternative: robbery. It's always best to meet a potential Craigslist buyer at a public place, and not your home. Unfortunately, even letting a Craigslist crook into your car can sometimes get you caught up in criminal activity.

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5 Things You Shouldn't Keep in Your Car

For many people, a car is like a traveling storage bin. But there are some things you shouldn't keep in your car -- unless you want potential thieves to purloin your personal information.

It's generally easier to break into someone's car to steal something than to break into a home, so you want to make sure that your valuables and items with personal data are locked up in a place where criminals can't easily access.

What items are particularly risky? Here are five things you shouldn't keep in your car:

  1. Your Passport. Regardless of what country you're in, you should never leave a passport in your car. This is especially important if you're traveling abroad and renting a car. Replacing your passport can be a huge hassle, and you always run the risk of identity theft.
  2. Your Social Security card. Along with passports, Social Security cards are often used to commit identity theft. Since Social Security numbers don't have photo IDs, they can easily be stolen and used to open credit cards or fake accounts under your name.
  3. GPS -- especially if addresses are programmed into it. While it makes sense to keep your GPS in your car so you can get directions whenever you need to, you should consider removing your GPS device from your car when you're not driving. GPS devices can contain a huge amount of private information, like your home address. Don't give criminals directions to where you live and work.
  4. Cell phones. Smartphones are hot commodities, and leaving your cell phone in your car is a great way to ask for a break-in. Although you should use a password to protect personal information on your phone, if hackers can log in, then they may be privy to your contacts, email, and online banking apps. So don't leave your phone in your car -- or consider carrying an outdated flip phone that criminals wouldn't want (we're only half-kidding about that).
  5. Credit cards. For financial security, you shouldn't keep credit or debit cards in your car. Criminals can easily steal these cards and go on a shopping spree. If your credit or debit card has been stolen from your car, contact your banking institution immediately.

These are just a few of items you shouldn't keep in your car. A good rule of thumb: If something is valuable or reveals personal data about you, don't leave it in your vehicle.

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