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TDH checking retail stores for recalled toys

They’re so cute – that soft goldfish rattle with the big eyes and that lifelike stuffed kitten that purrs when you pet it. And what child wouldn’t love a little toy troll that sticks out his tongue when you squeeze him, a flexible-neck lamp with Tweety’s face on its plastic shade or a cool baseball video game that features an electronic home plate, ball and bat?

Unfortunately, the goldfish’s sewn-on eyes and the troll’s balloon tongue can detach, causing a choking hazard. The water inside the stuffed kitten that makes it “lifelike” is contaminated. The bulb in the lamp is a fire and burn risk. And the video game’s electronic bat can separate during a swing, releasing broken pieces that have hit and injured numerous children.

These and several other potentially hazardous items make up a sort of “l0 Most Wanted” list for product safety division inspectors from the Texas Department of Health. Each fall, just before the big holiday shopping season the inspectors visit retail stores around Texas making sure that certain recalled toys are no longer available and giving retailers detailed information about each of the recalled items.

It’s called “Toy Sweep,” and it’s a four-day campaign to educate retailers and remind consumers that certain items have been recalled and are not safe for children. This year’s effort in the Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio areas was last week.

“We hold the Toy Sweep at this time because the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, and we want safety to be foremost in parents’ minds when they select toys for their children,” said Annabelle Dillard, chief of the field operations and compliance branch for TDH’s product safety division.

This year’s Toy Sweep will focus on a sampling of many different products. Some are choking hazards – toys in which the eyes are not sewn on well or toys that can break, causing small parts to be released. Some are electrical hazards (the lamp). Some are mechanical hazards – bicycles with frames or front-suspension forks that can break during use, resulting in serious injury, and the bat that can come apart. And one item, a soft toy for babies, has wire that can poke through fabric, causing cuts, scratches and other injuries.

Why these 10 out of the hundreds of items that manufacturers, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, recall each year? Dillard says TDH tries to select different types of toys with different types of hazards that were distributed in Texas and have been recently recalled. Other criteria considered include whether any injuries were reported and whether a significantly large number of the toys were affected by the recall.

Dillard says that manufacturers have gotten better in recent years at getting information about recalled items to retailers. “The problem is that, once a product has been distributed, it’s very difficult to get the word out to all the retail outlets,” she said. “That is why a recalled product may still be on store shelves.”

For their part, retailers are extremely cooperative with inspectors, she adds. “They don’t want to sell an item that’s been recalled. They actually welcome our inspectors into their stores because they very much appreciate the information that we provide to them and because we can help them prevent the sale of these items.”

Educating the public is also an important aspect of the Toy Sweep. Dillard says it’s a good time to remind parents of things to keep in mind when they’re shopping for toys or evaluating toys they have at home.

• Read the label carefully. “It’s very important to look at the age levels that are recommended on the package,” she said. Even if you feel your child is advanced for his or her age, skill level isn’t the only issue; there are safety considerations as well.

•Look for any hazards associated with the toy. “The eyes may not be sewn on very well; they may have points or sharp edges that would not be appropriate for a younger child,” she said. “It’s important for parents to look at the toy as a whole and determine whether or not it’s an appropriate toy for their child.”

•Go ahead and buy the accompanying protective gear when you purchase items such as bicycles, scooters and roller blades. That means helmets for bikes and scooters, kneepads, helmets and shin guards for skates, says Dillard.

•If there is more than one child in the household, remember that there will be toys around that aren’t appropriate for all ages, abilities and skill levels. “It’s important to instruct older children how to take care of their toys, especially toys with small parts. Make sure they keep those out of the reach of their younger brothers and sisters.”

•Periodically examine your children’s toys. “It’s important for parents to look in their child’s toy box regularly, discarding any broken toys and seeing if any of the items there could present a choking hazard or are now dangerous,” she said. “A toy that was perfectly safe before may have received so much wear and tear that it’s no longer safe.”

If you find toys you believe are dangerous, defective or mislabeled, call the TDH product safety division at 512-834-6773. Information is available on the TDH product safety Web site at www.tdh.state.tx.us/beh/ps/ about toy and product hazards.

For more information about all recalled items, consumers can visit the CPSC Web site at http://www.cpsc.gov.