When Melissa & Doug first opened their doors over twenty years ago, they billed themselves as educational toy makers, offering alternatives to parents looking for quality handmade toys that both parents and kids could love.  The company built its reputation on its rigorous safety standards and careful product inspections and quickly became a trusted alternative to big-name companies that have sold lead-tainted toys imported from China.  

Some things have changed in those twenty years, and some things haven't.  

Melissa & Doug toys are still fun, educational toys loved by both parents and children.  But over the years, the company has grown so large that it has outsourced most of the toy making to the same types of overseas manufacturers that have caused trouble with big-name toy makers.

On Friday, Health Canada announced a recall of more than 26,000 Melissa & Doug wooden Slice and Bake Cookie Sets, Shape Sorting Cubes and Pound-a-Peg toys after testing found excessive barium in the surface paint. Retailers such as Indigo Books & Music Inc. have pulled the products from store shelves, and consumers are advised to return items for a refund or exchange. The toys were made in China.

Similar recalls were issued in August and September, 2008, after health officials found high amounts of barium in two other toys sold by the company.  In an interview with Canada's Globe and Mail, a spokesman for Melissa & Doug defended the Connecticut-based company's safety record and said numerous tests are done on toys before they're sent to store shelves. But it's impossible for any company to be perfect, Rob Iatesta said.  “Honestly, it would be in my opinion a false and misleading statement for anyone at any company to say that there would be absolutely 100-per-cent [safety] achievement absolutely every year forever,” he said.

No word yet on whether or not this toy recall will affect Melissa & Doug toys sold in the U.S. But one thing is for sure, now more than ever parents need to use caution when looking for quality toys to put under the tree this year.

Photo of Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set by Proven Networking Secrets