Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is a federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children, her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005. Since 2009 Tamara has been using XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals), including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic. All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times, to confirm the test results for each component tested. Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023.
March 20, 2023 – Monday
I just checked in on the Cupkin website to see if there were any new notices about a recall and found that they have — finally — published a recall for their Lead-contaminated products [in response to Lead Safe Mama, LLC’s work bringing this to their attention back in early January — link to original article from January 8, 2023].
There is a screenshot below of the first part of their recall notice, and if you click that image it will take you to a PDF of the full recall notice. You can also see the recall notice directly on their website by clicking this link.
Previous public statements published on the company’s website indicate that they had sold more than 1,000,000 units, and based on testing I did of examples from each of their production runs, I believe the actual number of units covered by this recall is in fact all cups they have ever sold — therefore, more than 1,000,000 Lead-contaminated baby cups were sold as “Lead-free.” The company’s recall notice does not state the same numbers, but if I learn anything contradicting these findings I will update this article. Below is a screenshot from their website from January 2023 showing “1,000,000+ Products Delivered.”
Normally when I report on a product recall, I would generally leave it at that. Perhaps I would add a big “CONGRATULATIONS to the Lead Safe Mama online community for the important role you played in making this happen, and an EXTRA BIG shout-out to the mama in North Carolina who brought one of these cups to the outreach event I did there back in October of 2022.” October is when I first had the opportunity to test these cups and first found them to be contaminated with high levels of Lead in a child-accessible component! BUT … given the oddly disconcerting language Cupkin has chosen for their recall notice, I feel this time there is more to be said about how poorly this process has been handled [especially after things really seemed to be off to a great start with Max (the Cupkin owner)’s initial reaction to our findings!]
To make this information more likely to be found by those searching for it online, here is the full language from the Cupkin recall notice (which I first found live on their website tonight – 3/20/2023 – though it is undated, so I don’t know for sure when it was published).
Recall of our Kids Cups
Since our founding, Cupkin has always been guided by a strong commitment to producing safe, quality products. Our products are rigorously tested by United States CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission)-accredited labs to ensure we provide our consumers with safe products to make their jobs as parents better by using our products.
After recently receiving feedback from consumer advocates and additional follow up testing, we discovered that the double walled vacuum 8oz and 12oz cups may pose an unacceptable exposure to lead if the cup bottoms are mistreated. Liquids in the cup are not exposed to lead due to the double walled construction of our cups.
Working closely with the CPSC, we have issued a voluntary product recall of the Cupkin 8oz and 12oz cups.
We are encouraging consumers who purchased these products between 2020 and February 19th, 2023 to immediately stop using the cups.
Consumers can submit photographs of the cups showing their destruction to receive a refund. Please click on the “Submission Form” link below and follow the instructions. Consumers are asked to fill out their name and address and upload a photograph showing the destroyed cups. Within 2-3 weeks, you will receive your refund.
The affected products cannot be returned to Amazon or to retail locations.
Here’s What Happened
When we initially developed these cups, our manufacturing partner confirmed multiple times that absolutely no lead was used in any part of our production process. As parents to young children, our plan was to have a 100% lead-free cup. We took it a step further and had our cups tested by 2 separate 3rd party US CPSC-accredited labs. CPSC stands for Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can find the testing reports at the bottom of this page.
Our cups have multiple CPCs (Children’s Product Certificates) issued by both CPSC-accredited labs. This means that these labs tested our products thoroughly for lead, sharp edges, phthalates and other heavy metals / toxins but came back negative for everything.
Cupkin was simply a side project that Soo Jin and I originally created to show our daughters what “grit” looks like in the real world. It has become bigger than any of us could’ve imagined, but this is a fantastic opportunity to give our girls another example of what doing the right thing looks like. Learning that our manufacturing partner and not 1, but 2 CPSC-accredited labs let us down is a heavy set back both financially and emotionally.
However, no matter the cost…we are going to be as transparent and proactive as possible to resolve this ASAP. We will take this opportunity to completely redesign our cups to make them even better.
We’re firm believers in radical transparency and, as such, will update this matter as soon as more information becomes available.
If you’re interested in getting a refund, please fill out this form, and we’ll contact you about the next steps.
Max, Soo Jin, and the Cupkin team
The problems with the language in (& structure of) the Cupkin recall notice above:
Problem #1) How about an apology instead of deflection?
In the above statement, nowhere do they acknowledge how they expressly marketed these cups to customers as a “Lead-Free” product (leading consumers to purchase them BECAUSE they were advertised as “Lead-free!”). Cupkin does state that they intended to make a Lead-free product, but not that they, in fact, were selling a Leaded product that was labeled as “Lead-free!” This may seem like just a minor linguistic distinction, but this is really a HUGE mistake by the company — simply apologizing for having made this huge mistake would have gone a long way. They did not apologize to their customers with this statement — instead, they deflected blame onto the testing companies, their manufacturer, and even their customers by characterizing the product’s flawed construction/inherent potential for Lead-exposure to the user [toddlers] as the result of the product’s “mistreatment!”
Problem #2) The need to “destroy” the cups
In their recall notice (above), a first pass read gives the impression that Cupkin has made it as difficult as possible for a consumer to get a refund. Plus, how many moms of toddlers are going to actually take the time to read the notice more than once and then click the secondary link? In this recall notice, Cupkin is demanding that consumers “DESTROY the cup” and “send a photo of the destroyed cup” via a separate submission form in order to get a refund.
- A Mom’s First Impression: Frankly this is ridiculous. How exactly is a mom of toddlers — the primary customer who purchased these cups — expected to set about destroying a double-walled insulated stainless steel cup? What do they expect her to do — smash it with a hammer? Cut it up with a hacksaw? Drill holes in it? WTF?!
- In order to get details for exactly how parents should destroy the cup, customers have to click a secondary (non-obvious) link — which many parents may not take the time to do after a quick first read of the recall notice.
- Why don’t they issue instructions up front, in the main body of the recall notice on what they have in mind by way of acceptable “destruction” of the cup?
- Also: Isn’t there a potential for additional Lead exposure to the family in question via the act of destroying a cup like this? (HINT: The answer to that is YES!!!)
- I would imagine that with the requirement of destroying the cup to get a refund (and with the stated “acceptable” methods of destruction essentially buried on yet another link), moms are more likely to read the recall notice once and then decide to simply forgo the refund route, and just toss the cup in the garbage. I certainly hope that wasn’t the INTENDED outcome, but the structure of the notice — with the “how to” buried in a secondary link — seems deliberate!
- If Cupkin actually wanted customers to destroy the cup they should have included instructions on the main page of the recall notice stating how to go about that (and how to do it safely!). Absent obvious upfront instructions, demanding destruction of the cup in order to get a refund is incredibly disrespectful – and a manufactured way to be able to deny refund requests. Note: WeeSprout is handling this part of the equation really well right now (with their Lead-painted reusable glass baby food containers- link) they are offering refunds with no questions asked and no return of product (or destruction of product) required!
- Separately, the suggested “approved” method of squeezing the cup to “dent” the sides of the cup could actually result in compromising the seal over the Lead in the bottom of the cup and should not be done without full containment as it could result in Lead exposure to the person doing the destruction. I think it is pretty funny actually, that Cupkin is suggesting their customers — most of whom are women — “squeeze” a double-walled insulated stainless steel cup to “dent” it. I may actually make a video or two of me trying to squeeze one of these cups in an effort to dent it — I am certain the results would be comical and my efforts would generate no dents in the cups!
- Separately from the “how to” part of this concern, demanding that customers destroy the cup in order to get a refund is also total B.S. — since ALL of their cups are “defective,” all have ILLEGAL amounts of Lead (for children’s items), and all were, in point of fact, sold with false marketing language.
- Given the false advertising associated with this particular product, refunds should be given automatically without question — and certainly without the need to destroy the product then submit proof of that destruction.
Problem #3) Blaming toddlers for their own potential Lead exposure
Lastly, let’s look at what really amounts to passive-aggressive victim-blaming in Cupkin’s statement … Max! (This is directed at him because I expect he will read this.) Your admirable aspiration of “radical transparency” really misses the mark with this one! It seems that you are actually teaching your daughters about how to perfect corporate spin to limit your liability — because that is a more genuine interpretation of what you have done here!
- In addition to not apologizing, and in addition to not stating in your recall notice that your products have illegal levels of Lead for a product intended for use by children, here’s the passive-aggressive B.S.: “we discovered that the double walled vacuum 8oz and 12oz cups may pose an unacceptable exposure to lead if the cup bottoms are mistreated.” This is really offensive — it’s 100% a total spin!
- “Mistreated” is a LOADED word; you are blaming the victim [toddlers]. And they are the victim of a serious manufacturing supply-chain failure!
- Max, the fact is that YOU sold them a Lead-contaminated cup marketed as “Lead-Free.”
- The Lead does not become exposed if the cup is “mistreated!” The Lead becomes exposed WITH NORMAL USE AS INTENDED BY A TODDLER OR YOUNG CHILD (the intended user of this product!)
- Seriously Max — cut your losses and stop it already! Stop trying to deflect blame. Take responsibility with your CHOICE OF LANGUAGE as well as your actions. This is not a good look, Max!
Some final thoughts
I have been checking in on the Cupkin site frequently over the past week or two since I never got around to filing a CPSC violation report for this product and was still planning on doing that when I had a moment. I have also been periodically checking in on the CPSC’s website to see if a recall notice has been published. As of March 27, 2023, no recall notice has (yet) been published on the CPSC’s site (first image below). I’m wondering why that is, but it is a question for which I don’t have an answer.
Since I purchased these cups directly from the company for testing, I was automatically signed up for their insanely-aggressive marketing campaign. I wanted to unsubscribe because the frequency of their sappy marketing e-mails has been particularly offensive, especially in light of the content of those e-mails — NONE OF WHICH mentioned a pending or active recall, or a concern for Lead in their cups over the course of nearly three months!
Upon publishing this article, I took screenshots of their two most recent marketing e-mails and have included those as the second and third images below. These are from March 10th and March 17th — neither mentions a recall or pending recall. For this reason, I am assuming Cupkin must have just published this recall notice tonight (March 20th) — OR, alternately, they are just so tone-deaf and blind to what they have done that they don’t consider a Lead-recall to be something they should talk about in their weekly e-mails to their customers! It seems like if you ARE going to alert your customers about a product recall, and if you are genuinely interested in getting this information directly into the hands of your customers, then the best (and most “transparent”) way to do that would be through an email newsletter direct to your customers.
Based on the lack of notice in their e-mail bulletins recently, the lack of CPSC violation notice being published on the CPSC’s site, the fact that it took them two and a half months to issue a recall notice at all combined with the incredibly subtle (functionally invisible) link for the recall on their home page (fourth image below), I’m dismayed by this company’s lack of transparency. I say this, particularly in light of their espoused “commitment to radical transparency.” To me, this really has the optics of just another company looking to make a buck, and then looking to cover their ass once they have made a giant mistake.
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Consumer Advocate / Activist
Mother of Lead-poisoned children