Companies who use promotional products as part of their marketing campaigns took notice a couple of weeks ago when 12 million Shrek-branded drinking glasses were recalled by McDonald’s. The paint used to decorate the outside of the glasses was found to contain cadmium, a heavy metal which is known to be a carcinogen when ingested in large doses. The Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC) has established 75 parts per million as the allowable upper threshold for cadmium. These glasses were well below that level, yet they were recalled as a precaution. Both McDonald’s and the CPSC stated that they posed no danger to children.
The CPSC is known to be working on a revision to the cadmium standard, and the new regulations are expected to be more stringent. McDonald’s chose to take the high road and avoid any public relations questions, which could have resulted once the trace levels of cadmium became public. This was an expensive decision for the golden arches folks as well as their supplier who manufactured the glasses in New York state.
This is the second time this year that cadmium in children’s products has made the news. Earlier, there were recalls of children’s jewelry from retail stores – most notably, WalMart. But those cases were very different. The levels of of cadmium in the jewelry was measured to be as high as 91% – more than 10,000 times the federal limit. All of those items were made in China, which has seen more than it’s share of safety-related issues in recent years. In contrast, CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson stated “What’s so important is for parents to understand the difference. Children are not at an acute risk; the glasses are not toxic.”
So why was McDonald’s so cautious? Perhaps because of concern about what lies ahead in cadmium regulation. Along with the review in progress at the federal level, 2 states have already passed new cadmium limits, and more may follow soon. Safety is always a paramount issue for consumer-based companies, but even more so when an affected product is part of a marketing campaign. A reputation for safety doesn’t come easily, though it can be lost easily. Tell us what you think.