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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

What's safe, what isn't? I think I'm getting a headache

Single in the City I remember a baby biscuit that my little brother used to love to munch was later found to contain a substance that presented a cancer risk.

So there I was, about to take a pill for my headache, when a headline caught my attention as I was browsing the news websites. It said my painkiller, Tylenol, was being "recalled". There was a list of affected "lot numbers". And yes, the bottle I was holding was on that list. The thing is, I had already used up half the contents, so whatever triggered the recall is inside my body with who knows what long-term effects. Well, that's just great.

Of course, my pharmacist had "no information" about the recall. They should be ahead of the game and making their own checks about these things. What use is a refund when it's our health and safety at stake here? And Tylenol is just the tip of a very large iceberg. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a list of recalled items that contains hundreds of staple products that are part of most family households. There are food items, drinks (including water), toys, cosmetics, mobile phones, microwaves, medical equipment and vaccines, even vitamins and pet food. At least three of them I still have at home; I never knew they had been recalled because of "possible health risks". There are separate lists for car related items, and another one for consumer products, including clothes.

When I lived in Canada my car was fitted with a well-known brand of tyre that was part of a massive recall, running into the millions. Having already driven with them on dangerous, wet and icy winter roads, I wasn't impressed. I asked my mechanic to replace them with the safest tyres he knew, and his reply bothers me to this day: "There is no such thing. Every product may have some flaw, and it depends on what conditions happen to activate that flaw and cause damage."

Some of the worst recall cases involve infant and child-related products, such as powdered milk, that could put a fragile baby's life at risk. That is simply horrible. I remember a favourite baby biscuit that my little brother used to love to munch on was later found to contain a substance that presented a cancer risk. When I was about five years old, I broke into our family bathroom medicine cabinet by throwing Lego pieces at the hinges (don't ask; I used some strange tactics in those days) to get to the children's aspirin. It was pink and, well, yummy. Anyone who remembers it will know what I mean. I grabbed the whole box and hid behind the sofa, gobbling them down like candy.

My mother, who was in the kitchen, came to investigate the noise in the bathroom, and saw the mess. She screamed in fear and panic and started looking for me, calling out my name. Of course, when I heard that, I started to eat the pills even faster to erase any evidence of my crime. My mother found me eventually, and when she gently asked me how many pills I had taken, I smiled a powdery smile and said: "Ashra." Ten. It was apparently my favourite number, and I always wanted 10 of everything.

There was a hospital near our house, and my poor mother ran with me to it, terrified what I might have done to myself. I was lucky. It turned out I had swallowed just five pills. The doctor scolded me for being a "naughty child" and told my mother to give me lot of liquids. These days, of course, because of concerns over Reye's Syndrome, parents are advised not to give aspirin at all to any child under 12 with a fever.

As far as the Tylenol is concerned, let's be glad that at least there is a process of recall - something a lot of institutions in the Middle East still have to work on. There is this fear of admitting there is "a problem" in a product or a service, in a desperate effort to maintain a good reputation. But that can sometimes come at a high cost for consumers. I just wish that instead of relying on recalls, more big companies would devote some extra care to how they produce these things in the first place.

Anyway, I'm now looking for herbal remedies for my headache. They can't recall those - can they? @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae

Published: January 21, 2010 04:00 AM

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