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Keep Tabs on Your Product Liability

By: Steve Buckley and Frank Monaco
Posted: November 9, 2009, from the November 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In the U.S., there is a federal requirement for patch test warnings to be placed on most hair coloring products because of paraphenylenediamine (PPDA), an ingredient that is a known allergen, and other precautions are taken—ingredients are clearly listed and package instructions recommend that end users perform their own patch test by trying the product on a small area of skin. Unfortunately, not everyone reads the instructions or follows them.

In fact, in most cases where people get hurt from a product, it is likely that either the stylist or the consumer did not read the instructions. In a salon setting, stylists working on commission often are moving so fast they do not take the time, and unfortunately, many consumers who purchase the product over the counter can’t be bothered. In reference to allergic reactions, U.S. law states that consumers have a responsibility; so if a consumer has an allergic reaction and it is not a hair coloring product, in most states (with the exception of New Jersey and Massachusetts), a brand can put up a good defense if batches are coded properly.

If product contamination or tampering occurred after product left the brand/manufacturing facility, the only way to prove that the product in question was not the original product is, again, through coding batches. For instance, if there is a claim that a shampoo product contains an ingredient that caused an injury and that ingredient is not found in a retained sample, it demonstrates that something got into the product after it left the facility or there was misuse which led to the alleged injury.

Keep in mind that batch coding is a much more accurate measure than retrieving a sample of the product in question from a claimant. The claimant can be disingenuous and not send it to you, lose or contaminate it, or it can be lost and/or misplaced in transit. In fact, if you have the batch code, you do not need the product back from the claimant. There are instances where distributors or sellers will claim that a shipment of product was contaminated and/or did not fulfill the product requirements. Here too, proper batch coding versus the batch code information from the distributor will prove there was no contamination. Batch coding is also critical in finding out if a product needs to be recalled.

Batch Coding Basics

When there is a claim, the first step is to determine exactly what is in that product, and batch coding is the single most effective way to trace a product back to the facility where it was made. Whether a large brand or a small to mid-sized manufacturer, the date, location and the exact ingredient batch is trackable through batch coding. By following specific batch-coding guidelines, liability can be limited: