Product recalls are a scary prospect for consumers because they remind us that just because something's on store shelves, doesn't mean it's safe. In 2009, the range of products recalled literally ran the gamut from vaccines to canned soup. Some product recalls were voluntary, while others were ordered by regulatory agencies charged with overseeing safety. Here we look at the major product recalls of the past year.

Nuts are touted for their health benefits, but they can be a threat to your health if processed incorrectly. The 2009 year started with the recall of peanuts following the threat of contamination from peanut processing facilities operated by the Peanut Corporation of America. The peanuts were widely distributed and used in other foods from school lunch peanut butter to cookies.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recalled pistachios and mixed nuts processed by the Georgia Nut Company because they could have been tainted with the bacteria salmonella. The nuts were feared to have been contaminated during the shelling process.

H1N1 Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced a recall of children's H1N1 vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur. After months of continued hype about the need for immunization of children and young adults, the voluntary recall was made because the packages of vaccine did not hold its potency over time.

The CDC did not recommend re-immunizing children who had already taken the drugs. The manufacturer stated that specific lots of pre-filled syringes were tested and did not meet the company's guidelines. The recall impacted about 800,000 doses which had already been distributed to providers for use on children age 6 to 35 months old. (Perform a thorough checkup to uncover a medical stock with a clean bill of health in Investing In The Healthcare Sector.)

Window Shades
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urged owners of 50 million roman style window shades to request a repair kit due to a strangulation hazard. The roll-up blinds have cords that could strangle children if caught around their neck. The recall impacted many brands and included those with loop type cords.

Car Floor Mats
The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSC) confirmed the recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus cars because driver-side floor mats may cause the accelerator pedal to become stuck. Automobiles with the faulty mats could experience high rates of speed if the floor mat lodged under the gas pedal. Vehicle owners were instructed to remove the mats and contact the manufacturer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the recall of 6,500 pounds of Chunky Grilled Sirloin Steak with Vegetable Soup. Manufacturer Bay Valley Foods LLC recalled the soup due to under processing.

The 18.6 ounce cans were originally processed in November of 2008, but had a sell by date of 11/10/10. (Trim the fat from your grocery bill to reduce the impact of food cost on your budget in 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

Little Tikes recalled 1.6 million toy trucks and workshops due to a choking hazard. The toys, which included plastic toy nails, had been on the market for 15 years. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advised parents to remove the nails.

Johnson & Johnson originally recalled Tylenol Arthritis Formula caplets, but later expanded the recall to all Tylenol Arthritis Formula packages. The pills were said to have a moldy smell. Certain lots of the product were found to be tainted with a chemical used in packaging materials. Contact with the chemical reportedly may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The Bottom Line
While the number of products recalled and the seriousness of safety concerns may seem alarming, the recalls are a sign that systems put in place to protect consumers are actually working. The best advice for consumers is to do research and pay attention to recall announcements. Protect yourself by knowing which products pose a risk.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.