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Top 10 Worst Products for Massachusetts Consumers of the Year 2020

Take a look back at the worst consumer products of the year 2020 presented by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

The Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation (OCABR) empowers Massachusetts consumers through advocacy, community outreach, education programs, and partnerships while ensuring a fair and competitive marketplace for the businesses regulated by its five agencies: Division of Banks, Division of Insurance, Division of Professional Licensure, Division of Standards, and Department of Telecommunications and Cable.

The best consumer is an informed consumer. As part of our on-going consumer education and outreach, OCABR is again sharing its “Top 10 Worst Products for Massachusetts Consumers of 2020” list. The products and services featured on this list have caused harm to consumers and resulted in legal or legislative action, recalls, and/or other steps to protect the public. For product recall details visit the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Table of Contents

10. Disposable Plastic Coffee Pods

10. Disposable Plastic Coffee Pods

Single-use coffee pods have skyrocketed in popularity because they minimize the time and effort needed to brew a morning cup of Joe. However, these convenient pods are made with harmful plastics that have flooded landfills across the globe damaging the environment. The International Solid Waste Association estimates a 250% increase in plastic waste just since last year.

As a result of the negative environmental impact of disposable coffee pods, Keurig Green Mountain, the leading producer of K-Cups, vowed to make their products 100% recyclable by the end of 2020. Other pod manufacturers like Nespresso, Luigi Lavazza Spa, and Dunkin’ have followed suit using recyclable materials. In addition, consumer appliance companies, like Ninja and Breville, now incorporate reusable pod baskets in their coffee makers.

9. Missile Launcher Toys

9. Missile Launcher Toys

Toys that encourage outdoor play and exercise are often parental favorites, but Toysmith’s Missile Launcher has missed the mark with moms and dads. These hazardous toys are slingshot-like products that launch projectiles, made of plastic and foam, up to 75 feet. Most disconcerting is the launch itself which occurs next to the user’s face creating the potential for facial or eye injuries to the child.

Missile launchers landed on the 2020 World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.) “10 Worst Toys.” W.A.T.C.H is a non-profit organization that has issued their worst toy list every holiday season since 1973. Check their full list to make to ensure that none of the toys on it end up under your tree this season.

8. Essential Oils

8. Essential Oils

Essential oils paired with diffusers are safe alternative to candles, but these aromatic novelties pose a toxic risk for household pets. Domesticated animals, specifically cats, lack the necessary enzymes to metabolize and eliminate the toxins found in essential oils. Warnings about the potential danger to pets are rarely listed on the product label.

To safe guard your pet’s health discontinue use of essential oils in your home or consider pet friendly oils, like chamomile. If your dog or cat has been negatively impacted by essential oil use call your veterinarian, or contact the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.

7. Video Game Microtransactions

7. Video Game Microtransactions

Microtransactions are often used in online games that are free to play as they provide the developers with a revenue source. These transactions are usually completed though a custom store interface and often target young users because actual money is not exchanged. Users are encouraged to purchase virtual goods in the game with micropayments that are attached to a credit card or bank account. The virtual goods include things like player outfits, food, vehicles, or other items that give the buyer a winning advantage.

Consumer protections limiting or outlawing these types of in-game or in-app purchases have been proposed around the world. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages transparent disclosures to help players make informed decisions and urges self-regulation within the gaming/application industry.

6. Kids’ Water Bottles

6. Kids’ Water Bottles

Product recalls aim to fix, replace, or exchange defective and/or dangerous products. On occasion multiple recalls are required to ensure consumer safety. Contigo the manufacturer of Kids Cleanable water bottles recalled close to six million water bottles because they presented a choking hazard to kids. This is the second recall of kids water bottles in relation to detachable lids causing harm to children.

Reusable water bottles are a great way to protect the environment, just always remember to check product numbers and recall alerts on new products before use with your children.

5. Romaine Lettuce

5. Romaine Lettuce

Romaine lettuce was the focus of numerous food recalls in 2020. A toxic and potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria was found in romaine lettuce prompting a nationwide recall. At times, the CDC declared romaine grown within the U.S. unsafe to eat. Contaminated agricultural water is the prime suspect for the E. coli outbreak.

As a result of the outbreaks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strengthened industry standards for growing leafy greens, now requiring agricultural fields be planted a greater distance from septic tanks and livestock, and mandating regular water quality testing. Finally, on December 18, 2020, the CDC reported that the outbreak caused by romaine lettuce was over and provided advice to consumers to prevent getting sick from E. coli.

4. Vapes/E-Cigarettes

4. Vapes/E-Cigarettes

For the second consecutive year vapes and e-cigarettes are at the top of our worst product list. Vapes have been deemed by the CDC as unsafe for consumption by children, teens and young adults. Those who vape are more susceptible to severe respiratory infection if they contract COVID-19. In states that report high usage of vape products a correlation has emerged that shows a connection between pandemic death rate and e-cigarette usage. Moreover, any smoke ingested can greatly reduce the body’s ability to combat any lung illness. If vaping cessation is your new year’s resolution, resources are available to help you attempt to quit.

3. Face Masks with Vents

3. Face Masks with Vents

Local, state, and federal governments have issued face covering guidance to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings reduce the amount of respiratory droplets that travel into the air when talking, sneezing, coughing, or laughing and help these droplets from reaching others. In an effort to be both comfortable and compliant, many purchased vented masks without realizing that vents allow droplets to escape into the air and potentially spread the virus.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance against vented face masks stating that: "This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others." Many airlines have also banned customers from wearing masks with valves. The CDC recommends two- or three-ply masks to help protect both the mask wearer and those in the surrounding area.

2. Hand Sanitizer with Methanol

2. Hand Sanitizer with Methanol

In a year where protecting against germs has become everyone’s goal, hand sanitizers have become the go-to disinfectant. However, not all hand sanitizers are safe. Over the past year, many have been pulled from store shelves due to high levels of methanol and ethanol. An example is the September recall of “M Hand Sanitizer”. According to the FDA, methanol commonly known as “wood alcohol” can be toxic if applied to the skin and life-threatening when ingested. For safety purposes, refrain from purchasing or using any alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

1. Unapproved Home Test Kits, Treatments, and Vaccines for COVID-19

1. Unapproved Home Tests Kids, Treatments, and Vaccines for COVID-19

With the entire world holding their collective breath for a cure to COVID-19, scammers have been out in full force peddling fraudulent test kits, treatments, and vaccines. However, there are only two FDA approved vaccines, one by Pfizer and the other by Moderna. Both are now being distributed by the government with roll-out plans that target the most vulnerable populations, health care providers, and essential workers first. Most Americans should be vaccinated by April, so while you are waiting your turn beware of fake vaccination offers.

The same goes for do-it-yourself COVID testing, the FDA just recently approved the first at-home virus kit. Check with your medical provider to see if you need to be tested and if the at-home option is best for you. Remember that products with fraudulent health claims can pose serious health risks to the user. The FTC is warning companies to stop peddling fake COVID treatments and cures and advising consumers to follow their guidelines about obtaining government approved COVID products.

Date published: December 22, 2020
Last updated: December 31, 2020
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