McDonald's was supposed to be bulletproof. With a global rep to maintain, it has taken considerable pains to ensure that the promotional items it peddles aren't harmful to children. In fact, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, which took a drubbing after the 2007 Chinese toy fiasco, holds up McDonald's as a shining example of corporate diligence. From the CPSC website's "Catalog of Good Practices:"
People often do not focus on the extent to which restaurants have entered the toy business. Toys for young children, such as those given away in many fast food restaurants, can be tested for hazards like suffocation and choking. McDonald's is a leader in this regard. Working with a contractor, the company created its own state-of-the-art technology consisting of a lifelike child mannequin and "virtual child" computer system to simulate the physiology of a child. With this advanced technology, McDonald's is able to screen toys used in its promotions to detect and avoid safety hazards before the toys are given out.
Obviously, that's not good enough. In 2010 McDonald's recalled 12 million Shrek-themed drinking glasses containing cadmium. That's the same human carcinogen found in a batch of Claire's "best friends" bracelets recalled on May 10. (Claire's also recalled lead-tainted bracelets in 2007—and again in 2008.)
Indeed, the continuing stream of CPSC product recalls makes you want to stay the hell away from toy stores. And given the degree to which these recalls still depend on voluntary reporting, you have to wonder what's still getting past the CPSC. (MoJo contributor Josh Kurlantzick asked the same question of the Food and Drug Administration.) The Shrek items comprised the first such recall since 2002, which means either the fast-food corporations have gotten pretty good about pre-screening for lead and choking hazards and such—or that the regulators haven't paid enough attention. This slideshow details the relatively few fast-food toys recalled since 2000. For whatever reason, none of them involved lead.
"Working with a contractor, the company created its own state-of-the-art technology consisting of a lifelike child mannequin and 'virtual child' computer system to simulate the physiology of a child. With this advanced technology, McDonald's is able to screen toys used in its promotions to detect and avoid safety hazards before the toys are given out."
—Consumer Product Safety Commission's "Catalog of Good Practices"
Toy: "Shrek Forever After 3D" drinking glasses
Recalled: 12 million on June 4, 2010
Why: Design contains cadmium, a known carcinogen that can also cause kidney and respiratory problems.
Problems: None reported.
Restaurant: Halo Burger
Recalled: 9,500 on Nov. 15, 2002
Why: Leaking batteries and choking hazards.
Problems: Two reports of young children receiving minor skin irritation on their mouths from leaking batteries.
Restaurant: Burger King
Toy: "Hourglass Space Sprout" and "Look for Me Bumblebee"
Recalled: 2.6 million on July 31, 2001
Why: Various choking hazards
Problems: Six incidents where children had plastic balls or beads in their mouth; no injuries reported.
Toy: "Whatagear Compass Toy"
Recalled: 330,000 on April 26, 2001
Why: Choking hazard from lens covers
Problems: Four reports of lens covers coming off, but no injuries.
Toy: "Scooter Bug"
Recalled: 234,000 on March 5, 2001
Why: Antennae break off, posing choking hazard.
Problems: Two reports of children choking; one report of child gagging.
Toy: "Planetary Discovery"
Recalled: 3.8 million on Feb. 8, 2001
Why: Suction cup comes off, presenting choking hazard.
Problems: Seven reports. One child began choking, but parent removed suction cup in time.
Toy: "Pasta Pals"
Recalled: 310,000 on Aug. 29, 2000
Why: Suffocation hazard; bottom of container fits over a child's nose and mouth.
Problems: One report of child putting container over mouth; no injuries.
Toy: "Tangled Treeples"
Recalled: 425,000 on Aug. 10, 2000
Why: Suffocation hazard; container can fit over child's nose and mouth.
Problems: 19-month-old girl reportedly had container stuck over face, causing distress. When mom removed it, red mark left behind.