Cuisinart recall 'just screwed up the holidays for a lot of people'

Suzy Scherr, a chef and cookbook author, with her damaged Cuisinart food processor in her home in Chappaqua on Dec 15, 2016.
Suzy Scherr, a chef and cookbook author, with her damaged Cuisinart food processor in her home in Chappaqua on Dec 15, 2016. PHOTO: NYTIMES
A view of a cracked and chipped Cuisinart food processor blade, on Dec 15, 2016.
A view of a cracked and chipped Cuisinart food processor blade, on Dec 15, 2016. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A recall of blades in more than eight million Cuisinart food processors, the workhorse of many American kitchens, could not have come at a worse time for home cooks. With Hanukkah and Christmas less than two weeks away, there are potatoes to grate, nuts to chop and doughs to mix.

Conair, the hair dryer company that bought the ailing Cuisinart brand in 1989, disclosed on Tuesday that the blades of machines in United States (US) and Canada were prone to cracking apart and had caused injuries.

At least 69 consumers told the company that pieces of the blade had ended up in their food. Of those, 30 people sustained broken teeth or cuts in their mouths, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The number of machines involved makes this one of the three largest appliance recalls in American history, said Mr Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for Mr Elliot Kaye, the chairman of the commission. Mr Kaye owns one of the machines being recalled.

The number of injuries could climb, agency officials said, as they and the company continue to process the complaints.

 

Although the company first made concerns about the blade public this week, there are indications that Cuisinart had been told about the problem years earlier. Reports of troubles with the blades were posted on the website where the commission takes product safety complaints as early as March 2011, when a cook reported that part of a Cuisinart blade had broken off in a batch of vegetables being processed for soup. The commission had started the website only earlier that year.

Consumers also posted warnings to other shoppers on websites like Amazon.com as early as 2012. Cuisinart declined requests for an interview. The company is offering free replacement blades to those who contact it by phone or online.

As word of the recall spread this week, cooks across the country rushed to their kitchens to see if their machines were on the recall list. Although the company said the recall covered machines sold from July 1996 through December 2015, some consumers who bought their machines in the 1980s say they discovered model numbers and the same style of blades, secured with rivets, that were included in the recall.

Suzy Scherr, a chef and cookbook author who lives in Chappaqua, New York, examined her blade on Wednesday and, to her shock, flicked off a small piece of metal.

"It was frightening because I cook for my family and use my food processor constantly," she said. She also cooks for private clients and was about to make some bread dough, a process she suspects would have dislodged more metal.

"It is scary, especially because it's such a trusted name," she said.

Jason Perlow, a cook who started the pioneering food blog eGullet in the 1990s, called it "the foodie version of the Volkswagen diesel scandal". His wife, Rachel Nash Perlow, said she was frustrated that the company had yet to offer any indication of how long it would take to send a replacement blade.

"Cuisinart just screwed up the holidays for a lot of people," she said.

One of them is Karen Wolfe Haram, the retired food editor of The San Antonio Express-News. "The timing could not be worse," she said. "That's what puts this over the edge. If was sometime in March, you'd be like, 'Ok, I can hang in for a couple of weeks.'"

Among them, she and her three daughters have five food processors; all of them are on the recall list. She uses hers daily and said she would keep using it, but would check the blade carefully each time.

Cuisinart appeared unprepared for the response. The phone line it set up to take calls has often gone unanswered, and on Wednesday, its website was unable to process claims for replacement parts.

Like many people who tried to contact the company, Ms. Wolfe Haram was unable to get through. She said she tried at least 25 times on Tuesday, when the recall was announced, and again on Wednesday. She finally resorted to filling out a form on the website but like others has not heard when the new blades will arrive.

One woman in Newport News, Virginia, told the local television station WVEC that she had fielded more than 100 calls from Cuisinart owners that had somehow been redirected to her phone.

"I get, like, 10 calls back to back - bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I get calls from all kinds of area codes - from Las Vegas, Puerto Rico," the woman, Jacqueline McDonald, told a local reporter.

The products commission took about 1,700 calls about the matter on Wednesday, Mr Wolfson said. Although the commission has asked the company to increase its efforts, Cuisinart "is doing the best they can", he said. "We encourage consumers to keep trying."

The commission is asking people whose blades have snapped or who have been injured to report the cases to the agency. "Metal degrading and unexpectedly breaking into parts that make their way into food is a very serious hazard," he said.

Cuisinart food processors, which were inspired by a tool developed for French restaurant kitchens in the 1960s, arrived in the United States in the early 1970s and quickly became an expensive but beloved piece of equipment among epicures.

Although several other food processors have since hit the market, people remain loyal to the brand.

Some cooks said they were going to simply buy new Cuisinarts, which can be found for less than US$100 (S$143) at some stores. Others scrambled to try to order replacement parts online.

But many are choosing to use the machines to get them through the holiday cooking rush, inspecting their blades as they go. One is Sandra Kolka, a former cooking instructor at the Viking Cooking School in Atlanta.

Ms. Kolka, who is such a fan of her 16-year-old Cuisinart that she had the motor replaced when it burned out, advised cooks not to panic. "I'm not saying it's not serious, but I think your potatoes will be fine," she said.

Nancie McDermott, a cookbook author, said people should just get back to chopping and mixing by hand.

"It's going to be OK," she said. "You have everything you need to cook everything for the holidays at the end of your arms."