‘Melissa & Doug’ Scores High Marks in Toy Safety

May 20, 2011 — By

A couple of weeks ago we asked a question on our facebook page: “In your opinion, which brand makes the safest toys?”

Admittedly, it was not a very scientific survey, but there was a clear winner – Melissa & Doug. We decided to take a closer look at this toy company to find out more about their safety practices. When we did, we found that there are many reasons why consumers trust Melissa & Doug.

The first place we looked was our own data. WeMakeItSafer tracks nearly 100 points of data on every recall announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government agency that has jurisdiction over toys in the US. With this data we are able to analyze everything from how long a product was on the market before it was recalled to how many injury reports the company received before implementing the recall.

This type of information is important when assessing the company’s level of responsibility because, as we have explained before, how well a company handles a recall says nearly as much about its commitment to safety as does the fact that they had the recall in the first place. For example, How many units were involved? Did the company act quickly? Were they transparent about the cause?

We found that Melissa & Doug has never had a recall in the US; however, the company did recall five toys over three separate recalls in Canada. In each case, the toys were recalled for having failed tests conducted by Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent to the CPSC, which detected small amounts of the heavy metal Barium in surface coatings.

The first two recalls, in 2008, were for a limited number of Geometric Stackers (about 300) and Stacking Trains (about 1,146). The third, in 2009, was somewhat more significant, recalling Slice and Bake Cookie Sets, Shape Sorting Cubes and Pound a Pegs (about 26,290 units in total). By comparison, US toy recalls during the same time period averaged 146,000 units per recall.

The data also show that Melissa & Doug recalled its toys far more quickly than the average US toy company conducting recalls. During 2008 and 2009, recalled toys were sold new an average of 26 months before they were recalled. Melissa & Doug’s recalled toys were on the market for a significantly shorter period of time, an average of nine months.

Based on the information we found online, Melissa & Doug appeared to be transparent about the recalls and what caused them. In addition to handing over many of their own testing documents, Doug Bernstein, the President of Melissa & Doug, responded to consumer and journalist inquiries in an open letter published by Z Recommends.

WeMakeItSafer recently spoke with Chris Myers, Quality Assurance Director at Melissa & Doug to learn more about these past recalls and how things have changed since 2009. We wanted to know what, if anything, the company was doing differently to mitigate the risk of future recalls.

Myers was quite courteous and willing to answer any questions we had. As we discussed the previous recalls, he shared with us that the company had used an independent testing facility to conduct more than 30 tests for barium on the recalled toys. The tests in question all used the Canadian testing standards, which are more rigorous than those used in the US, and none revealed excess levels of Barium.

With evidence supporting that the toys were in fact compliant, many companies would have fought against the recalls. Instead, Melissa & Doug chose to cooperate with Health Canada to resolve the issues as expeditiously as possible.

According to Myers after the 2009 recalls, Melissa & Doug reduced the acceptable amount of Barium for their toys to about half of what the US and Canada allow, meaning the amount of barium must be nearly undetectable in order to pass Melissa & Doug’s safety standards. Furthermore, all toys sold in the US are tested using Canada’s more rigorous testing methods.

We asked why Melissa & Doug did not implement these practices after the 2008 recalls. Myers indicated that they believed their testing methods and results were accurate.

The lots recalled in 2008 were quite small and, as with any quality control process, if a problem is not reproducible, one cannot know what to change. In other words, there was nothing visible to fix. After being stung again in 2009 by discrepancies in test results from their third-party testers versus Health Canada’s testers, the company decided to virtually eliminate barium from their surface coatings, thereby holding their own toys to a much higher standard than either the US or Canadian authorities would.

Barium is only one of many hazards for which Melissa & Doug tests. All their toys go through both internal and independent third-party testing of everything from lead paint to “use and abuse,” which tests whether the toy could break and expose small pieces or sharp edges.

If you are curious about the safety testing conducted by Melissa & Doug, copies of their General Conformity Certificates are available online for every product. The certificates list the applicable safety regulations to which each of their toys conform, such as small parts, flammability, lead and phthalates. Just click “Safety” from the home page, or click here.

Notably, while all toy companies are required to make these General Conformity Certificates available to retailers and distributors, it is not often that they are so easily found and available to consumers. Additionally, the company’s telephone number is listed on every product, and they encourage you to call if you have questions or concerns of any kind.

At the end of our discussion with Melissa & Doug, we understood more about why many consumers love and trust their products. While Melissa & Doug cannot guarantee that there will never be a safety concern, their current public safety record and recall practices are exemplary. In the unlikely event of a future recall, one can bet that Melissa & Doug will handle the problem quickly and openly, with the safety of children remaining their top priority.


  1. Ngan says:

    I paid Geometric Stackers for my 18 month daughter last 2 month. She love to stack and take out and chew. She play every day. Last week I saw paint chipped. I tell my husband put it in trash can. I can said Canada reporting is true. I bought the product and it happen to me.

  2. Gabriella says:

    I don’t know what to believe. I think I trust what Canada is reporting. I do not purchase any painted products my son will put his mouth. Yes, I am sure there are inspections upon inspections, but really…it comes down to how cheaply a product can be made, so please do not insult me and tell me mega testing is going on. On paper yes, reality no.

  3. Ron Nixon says:

    I started carrying Melissa and Doug toys in my store a few months ago. I almost didn’t order them because they were made in China and I want to sell American made toys. (I’ve been a Maple Landmark dealer for several years.)

    After several conversations I agreed to accept a shipment. When the boxes arrived they were in such bad shape that my UPS driver said he wasn’t going to leave until I opened them! We checked and there was no damage to the toys.

    I have no complaints at all about Melissa and Doug. I recently received one Scotty toy that was ripped and I immediately received credit for it with no questions asked.

    Almost every one of my customers is surprised when I tell them they are made in China. Apparently they don’t read the labels where it is plainly stated where they are made. They also have nothing but good things to say about Melissa and Doug.

  4. alexis says:

    I just dont like the fact that they lead people to believe that all of their toys are made in the U.S. when they are not..so many people have questioned me about this and I have to tell them that they are really made in the wost part of China. Their toys break off and chip terribly..I have sold toys for 28 years..stopped selling their stuff 3 years ago as other specialty toy stores I know have..sorry I like Haba and toys that do not have paint

    • Angela says:

      How do they lead people to think their toys are made in the US? It states clearly on the box “Made in China.” I do appreciate that they are safer than most toys. Not my first choice, but it’s tough when you don’t have many options.

  5. Bethany says:

    I’ve seen several instances online where Melissa & Doug toys reportedly had lead found in them. That, and the fact that they are made in China, is one reason I *won’t* carry them.

    I really want to trust them, and I think that if you have to choose between a cheap toy from China and a M&D toy… Melissa and Doug is probably a safer and better choice 99% of the time.

    But the M&D toys we’ve been given as gifts have all chipped terribly and they aren’t generally sanded very smoothly, so I can’t carry them.

  6. Scott Graves says:

    That’s one reason we have chosen Melissa and Doug toys for our site.