Blender Blunder: Vitamix Recalls Over 100,000 Blender Containers for Possible Laceration Hazard

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about a blender recall, and for all I know it won’t be the last. I’m no engineer, but it feels like in 2018 it shouldn’t be too complicated to put a cup on a weed-whacker. Despite that we’ve seen a rash of safety defects announced by various kitchen-device manufacturers.

Who Makes This Product?

Founded in 1921 by William Barnard, the kitchen-appliance company Vitamix has made “high-performance blending equipment” since 1937. Interestingly, the company is credited with airing the nation’s first infomercial in 1949 when it advertised the wonders of its hardware.

The Barnard family continues to privately own and operate Vitamix to this day, basing most of its operations out of Olmsted Township, Ohio.

Which Products Are Affected?

The voluntary recall affects Vitamix’s “Ascent” and “Venturist” series 8- and 20-oz blending containers with “blade date” codes of March 2018 or earlier.

The products have clear containers and black blade bases. They were sold separately and also with “Venturist” Model blenders.

The code is laser-etched onto one of the base’s blades in the “MM-YY” format as shown in the far-right image above. According to Vitamix, blade bases “marked with an orange or green dot” have already been repaired.

What’s Wrong With The Product?

The recall says the Ascent and Venturist containers run the risk of separating from their bases during use, meaning the whirling blades can become exposed while powered on. Obviously this poses a serious laceration risk to the hands of its thirsty kale-spinach-dragonfruit smoothie drinking users.

At the time of the recall Vitamix had received eleven complaints from injured customers. The injuries’ severity wasn’t disclosed, but if they involved whirling blades encountering fingertips and palms I’m going to guess they weren’t negligible.

How Widespread is the Problem?

Vitamix estimates the number of recalled units at around 100,000 in the U.S. and roughly 5,300 in Canada.

The affected units were sold at chains nationwide (including Costco and Williams-Sonoma) as well as through the company’s online store at vitamix.com. They were sold through these outlets for about a year, from April 2017 through July 2018. The company says that any blenders made on or after April 2018 are safe from the defect as they redesigned and replaced a faulty gasket that was responsible for the flaw.

Depending on features and included attachments, Vitamix product prices run from $24 up to $600 models, which I have to assume can fill every wheatgrass-blackberry-jalapeño shake with gold flakes and can also give you back rubs and do your taxes.

What Should Owners of the Product Do?

According to Vitamix and a page about the recall on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)’s website, the proposed remedy is actually a repair instead of a replacement. Consumers are strongly encouraged to stop using their blenders until they contact Vitamix for a repair kit. The company and the CPSC gave the following contact methods:

To repeat, any blade base marked with an orange or green dot has already (allegedly) been repaired by the company and should be safe for use.

This is a Bad Deal for Consumers

On one hand, Vitamix is trying to correct a problem. They copped to their mistake (in a vague, evasive way) and are trying to make it right. They get a few points for honesty, though it’d be better if their product hadn’t needed the dodgy statement they put on Twitter (pictured right) in the first place.

I find that message a little cringeworthy. Without directly admitting guilt, it implies the products “did not work as intended” (by cutting fingers) so they’ll “improve [their] design” (by making it work right). It’d be asking a lot for a company to simply apologize for a failure instead of spinning it as a “learning experience,” so I reluctantly accept that double-speak as long as their proposed fix really does stop the problem. I don’t have to like it, though.

On the other hand, Vitamix charges a pretty penny for its blender line. No matter how easy the fix supposedly is (the company says the replacement gasket is a “no tools needed” solution), people paid for a product that should have worked correctly right out of the box. Design flaws are easier to forgive in a more benign product, but blenders can cause harm, as eleven (or more) hands have learned the hard way. Now some people may no longer want to use their blenders; what can they do? Vitamix seems to be telling them they can either fix the defective item themselves or just get rid of it, but they won’t accept a return or issue any refunds.

If I had a Vitamix blender, I personally would blow up that service line looking for either a full-fledged replacement item (not just a gasket) or a total refund for selling what might be not just a lemon, but an exploding one. Of course, not everyone may feel the same; if the gasket does as claimed, it will address the separation danger with little fuss. At that point anyone who otherwise loves their Vitamix can cut loose again, blending the heck out of life.

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It’s Also Legally Questionable.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the legal complications of leaving all these blenders out in the wild with just a replacement part. Vitamix has more or less admitted that some of their products are defective and can create unnecessary hazards for their users. Despite that, the company is leaving those blenders in circulation with a simple rubber ring mailed to people as an assurance against further injuries. By refusing to do an actual recall of the defective cups, Vitamix may leave itself open for possible lawsuits.

When a manufacturer’s product turns out to be unnecessarily dangerous, that manufacturer could be held strictly liable for the product. That means they can be held legally responsible simply because the product is known to be dangerous–without any specific instances of malicious or negligent behavior.

Putting aside strict liability, though, the company could still face allegations of negligence. After all, between their eleven injury reports and their public acknowledgment of the product flaw, they can’t feign ignorance of the issue. Rather than take these faulty cups back, they’re mailing out a flimsy rubber ring and making their consumers perform their own troubleshooting. Beyond that there’s virtually no way their recall announcement finds every person who bought these cups, meaning tens of thousands of cups probably won’t be fixed.

I can’t exactly commend Vitamix for its lukewarm recall efforts so far, but given the number of companies that sit on knowledge of far worse flaws in far more dangerous products, this is hardly capital-crimes territory. To ensure its continued trustworthiness in the highly competitive world of kitchen hardware, the company should probably consider a more robust remedy process than a mailed out rubber gasket, but at least they’re taking action. Let’s hope it’s swift and effective enough to rescue further fingers from jeopardy.

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