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Reports of serious burns spur probe of Australian appliance maker Thermomix

When it comes to kitchen appliances, few companies are as enigmatic and perplexing as Australia-based Thermomix, and a recent investigation launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) only adds to the bewilderment. After a rash of safety complaints and objections to an odd confidentiality agreement surfaced in March, the ACCC opened an investigation geared toward assessing whether Thermomix’s products were faulty or not. The commission officially confirmed its involvement in the investigation this week.

In the months since the investigation was launched, a consumer group called Choice also filed a mass incident report packed with 87 claims of faulty Thermomix products. According to Choice, several complaints alleged hot liquid could explode from the Thermomix device. On 18 different occasions, owners were burned so severely they had to seek medical treatment. Though these grievances were filed to Choice, the ACCC says it’s using the amassed complaints as part of its ongoing investigation.

“The safety, welfare, and support of our customers is and always has been our highest priority,” said Thermomix in response to the controversy. “We have always fully cooperated with the relevant authorities and will continue to do so. We do not wish to prejudice the outcome of the review by the ACCC by commenting further at this time.”

So what is a Thermomix machine? For starters, it’s an uber-exclusive appliance sold only through its German manufacturer Vorwerk’s subsidiaries. It also boasts an incredibly unwieldy price tag of roughly $1,600. Due to its odd method of selling products and perpetual shroud of mystery, many have jokingly speculated online that Thermomix seems more like a cult than a bona fide appliance designer.

Featuring mixing blades, integrated scales, temperature-sensing mixing bowls, and more, the machine is said to be able to do the job of no less than 12 different appliances. Essentially, it clears up precious kitchen counter space and packs a serious multifunction punch.

Problems like this aren’t entirely new for the company. A product recall in 2014 brought to light an issue with Thermomix’s TM31 concerning the model’s rubber sealing ring, which was not properly keeping a seal while puréeing hot liquids. Thermomix recalled the products and released an updated TM5 model later that year. Though the TM31 was recalled, Choice says more than 80 of the claims it received cite that model as being faulty while five of the claims mention the TM5.

While a series of safety complaints are hardly the kind of press Thermomix and its manufacturer are looking for, an entirely different complaint makes this entire situation that much weirder. According to the consumer group Choice, some Thermomix users who complained directly to the company found themselves served with nondisclosure agreements the company urged them to sign. If any of the owners actually signed it, they were then barred from talking negatively about or disparaging Thermomix. Comments that could “harm the reputation of Thermomix or Vorwerk, or lead to unwanted or unfavorable publicity” were strictly prohibited after signing.

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Despite the request for signed nondisclosure agreements, Thermomix still maintains control over the ACCC’s safety reports seeing the light of day. Regardless of what the commission finds during its investigation, the appliance company would have to sign off on the report being released. According to Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey, this particularly odd rule doesn’t give consumers the correct kind of information they deserve when choosing to purchase an appliance.

“If your product has a significant failure, then the public has a right to know,” Godfrey told Guardian Australia. “We don’t think it should be under lock and key in Canberra. We think that anyone who uses a Thermomix should realize that these things can fail.”

Perhaps it’s been a blessing rather than a curse Thermomix’s 12-in-1 appliance has yet to officially launch within America’s shores.