Unhappy Meals

Would you like some cadmium with those fries? A slideshow of recalled fast-food toys.
 Not So Happy Meals

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.