Better detection tools and stricter safety rules mean that problems that once went undetected are now more often spotted and traced back to their source.

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Frozen peas that could make you sick. A water heater that might explode. Cars with steering wheels that were prone to fail and cause a crash.

Those are just a few of the thousands of products that manufacturers have recalled this year — and the deluge shows no sign of slowing. Across almost every product category, the scope and complexity of recalls are on the rise. A record 51 million vehicles were recalled last year, nearly three times as many as were sold. Annual food recalls have doubled since 2002, according to a study by an insurance firm, and the government’s primary products watchdog, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, announces at least one recall a day.

Two trends are driving the increase, consumer advocates and regulators say. First, the high number of recalls is, in some ways, a sign of improvements in attention to public safety. Some manufacturers will always cut corners or make mistakes, but better detection tools and stricter safety rules mean that problems that once went undetected are now more often spotted and traced back to their source.

That was the case in the recent recall of millions of bags of frozen vegetables and fruits from CRF Frozen Foods, a manufacturer in Pasco. A routine test by the Ohio Department of Agriculture on packages of frozen corn and peas came back positive for the bacterium that causes listeria, which can make young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems seriously ill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used whole genome sequencing to link the listeria strain found in CRF’s frozen vegetables in Washington to an outbreak that sent eight people in three states to the hospital.

“That kind of testing wasn’t done 15 years ago,” said Gene Grabowski, a crisis communications specialist who has worked on more than 175 product recalls, including CRF’s. “You would just get a 24-hour flu or a stomach ache, and nobody questioned it. Now it’s being identified.”

But sales and manufacturing changes, including many industries’ reliance on fewer, more widely shared suppliers, also make today’s recalls larger and more complicated than before.

“It’s the multiplier effect,” said Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, which helps companies manage recalls. “An issue with one subingredient or component can cause a recall that spans many companies and geographies because of the interconnected nature of supply chains.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has decades of experience in handling deadly product flaws, calls the continuing Takata air-bag recall the most complex it has ever overseen. The scope is huge: 14 automakers and as many as 1 in every 4 of the 250 million vehicles on America’s roads are affected, the fix is tricky and the stakes are high. After prolonged exposure to heat and humidity, the defective air bags can explode, hurtling chunks of metal into the vehicle’s cabin. At least 13 deaths worldwide have been linked to the flaw.

Nearly 29 million Takata air-bag inflaters have been recalled in the United States, and at least 35 million more are scheduled for recall, but manufacturers do not have the parts to replace all of them yet.

The help offered by manufacturers varies widely from company to company. The letter Honda sent to many customers specifically mentions the possibility of a loaner car, suggesting that owners talk to their dealers about “the provision of, or reimbursement for, temporary alternative transportation.”

Bill Vines, who has a 2011 Honda CR-V, received a recall notice in March and contacted his dealer in Rutland, Vt., a week later. He is now driving a Ford Fusion from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, arranged and paid for by Honda and the dealer, while his own car sits in the parking lot of the inn he owns.

“I clearly would prefer to be driving my Honda, but when you get a letter saying, ‘Your car could kill you and the passengers you’re driving,’ you pay attention,” he said.

Many recalls, including some of the largest, had minimal customer effect. The record for sheer unit numbers was a 2004 recall of toy jewelry imported from India and sold for 75 cents or less apiece in vending machines nationwide.

Some of the jewelry contained lead, prompting a recall of 150 million pieces, but not a single instance of harm or sickness was reported, said Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Overall, products of all kinds have been getting safer, consumer-protection experts said. Vehicle deaths are down to a record-low rate of roughly one death per 100 million car miles traveled. Last year, the fewest children’s products were recalled in at least 15 years, according to Kids in Danger, an advocacy group that cited “sustained, faithful implementation” of a 2008 law tightening product-safety rules as the main reason for the long-term decline.

Still, with new recall notices rolling out daily, regulators are pressing companies to do a better job of identifying problems and alerting customers. A patchwork of federal and state agencies coordinates recalls, and the most centralized notification site,, is an incomplete guide, officials acknowledge.

That puts the onus on manufacturers to be aggressive and creative in reaching their customers. With more traceable purchases, like automobiles and prescription medications, companies will typically use letters, emails, phone calls and sometimes even text messages to spur people into action.

“It almost looks like a marketing campaign,” said Pollack of Stericycle. “We may contact an owner 10 to 20 times to get them to bring an item in.”