Consumption of Tide Pods
Tide Pods are a line of laundry detergent pods from Procter & Gamble's Tide brand, which can be deadly if ingested, and which have been labeled as a health risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been numerous media reports discussing how children and those with dementia could endanger their health or life by consuming the pods, mistaking them for sweets. Between 2012 and 2013, poison control centers reported over 7,000 cases of young children eating laundry pods, and ingestion of Procter & Gamble laundry pods had resulted in six deaths by 2017. In response to the dangers, Procter & Gamble changed Tide Pod containers to an opaque design, introduced warning labels and added a bitter tasting chemical to the pod contents.
The pods have been sold since 2012. In late December 2017, Tide Pods became the center of an Internet meme, which involves a dare to intentionally consume the pods. The meme became especially popular with teenagers, and since then, there has been a sharp increase in poisoning incidents. Responding to the growing number of incidents, Google and Facebook started removing videos that featured the challenge, and Procter & Gamble aired numerous advertisements urging people to avoid eating the pods.
The health risks posed by the ingestion of Tide Pods—particularly by children—have been noted by several media outlets. In March 2013, Consumer Reports reported that "since early 2012, poison control centers nationwide have received reports of nearly 7,700 pod-related exposures to children age 5 years and younger." In 2012 and 2013, an average of one child was admitted to hospital every day as a result of eating Tide Pods. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tagged them as a health risk in 2012. Consumer Reports noted that "swallowing conventional detergent might result in mild stomach upset, but with highly concentrated detergent pods the ingestion can cause excessive vomiting, lethargy, and gasping, and in some reported cases, victims stopped breathing and required ventilation support." Individuals suffering from dementia have been reported to face health risks related to Tide Pods. Consumer Reports reported that between the Tide pods' introduction in 2012 through early 2017, eight deaths had been reported due to the ingestion of laundry detergent pods, with six of the eight deaths resulting from a pod manufactured by P&G.
Due to initial reports of children consuming their laundry detergent pods, Procter & Gamble began distributing Tide Pods in opaque tubs and bags. In 2015, P&G announced it would implement a bitter taste to its Tide Pods as a means to deter people from biting into them. Tide would also include child-safety features in its packaging and issue extensive warnings about locking up the pods in households shared with individuals who have Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, Tide's website includes a page discussing how to safely handle its products, and suggesting consumers drink a glass of water or milk if a product is swallowed and call a poison control center for help.
Many media outlets referenced the visual similarity the pods have to candy as a reasoning behind their consumption. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer commented on the appeal of pods, "These pods were supposed to make household chores easier, not tempt our children to swallow harmful chemicals. I saw one on my staffer's desk and I wanted to eat it."
Consumer Reports published a story discussing the contents of laundry detergent pods and the consequences of ingesting them, which can include death. The story detailed that pods contain ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, and long-chain polymers, that when ingested can result in caustic burns to the lining of one's mouth, as well as the esophagus, stomach, and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. The Daily Meal cited one 2014 study that suggested that ingesting the detergent pods may cause a swallowing dysfunction that could require surgery to repair.
In early 2018, media publications noted that shortly after the product's introduction, the consumption of Tide Pods became a topic of discussion on the Internet. Ultimately, eating Tide Pods became a meme, with its origins being credited to a 2013 thread on the Straight Dope online and a 2015 article from The Onion. Mashable quoted an instance of a tweet regarding this topic from 2012, "Why does a Tide Pod look so good to eat?" The Straight Dope thread's discussion was more centered on children accidentally eating Tide Pods, rather than the meme's iteration popularized in 2017, which portrays pods as a delicious food. The topic of children eating the pods was a concept based on real incidents of children consuming them.
In the following years, eating Tide Pods became a popular joke online. In March 2017, CollegeHumor uploaded a sketch video titled Don't Eat The Laundry Pods. Posts begin to prefer "Tide Pods" to more generic terms such as "laundry pods" with a thread posted on Reddit's "intrusivethoughts" subreddit in July 2017. The thread, titled "Bite into one of those Tide Pods. Do it.", was referenced in another Onion article the following day. Posts on Tumblr contributed to the meme's rise, but in December 2017, the meme's popularity rose significantly due to various viral tweets. Many posts referred to the pods as a "forbidden fruit". Memes involving the Tide Pods included joking about how "delicious" they appear, as well as posting images with the pods on top of food. Vox described the meme as "pok[ing] fun at the idea of consuming the pods, while (usually) stopping short of actually doing so." The publication noted that part of the allure of discussing, wondering, and joking about consuming the pods spawns from the product's warning to not eat the pods. In early January 2018, television personality Jimmy Kimmel referenced the meme when discussing a tweet from President Donald Trump: "sounds like somebody's been in the White House laundry room eating Tide Pods again because the President of the United States is starting his own award show for the media."
"Tide Pod Challenge"
During the first few weeks of 2018, following the meme's surge in popularity, media publications started reporting about teenagers participating in the Tide Pod Challenge. The challenge is an Internet challenge in which an individual consumes Tide Pods. Teenagers were the reported demographic participating in the challenge; they would record themselves chewing and gagging on pods and then daring others to do the same. Some of these videos were posted on YouTube. Some teens cooked the pods prior to eating them.
In response to the meme, a spokesperson from Procter & Gamble (P&G) was quoted in BuzzFeed News emphasizing the purpose of their pods and the health risks associated with children: "Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people who use our products. Our laundry pacs are a highly concentrated detergent meant to clean clothes and they're used safely in millions of households every day. They should only be used to clean clothes and kept up, closed and away from children. We have been consistently proactive in providing consumers with the right usage guidance and tools to enable them to use the product safely." Tide further stated, "They [pods] should not be played with, whatever the circumstance is, even if it is meant as a joke." Tide later partnered with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, having him issue the message: "What the heck is going on, people? Use Tide Pods for washing. Not eating. Do not eat."
Ann Marie Buerkle from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission went on Good Morning America and commented on the meme, saying, "teens trying to be funny are now putting themselves in danger by ingesting this poisonous substance." Buerkle added, "This is what started out as a joke on the internet and now it's just gone too far."
Following the growth of the meme, YouTube and Facebook started removing videos that depicted people eating Tide Pods.
Following the meme's popularization on Twitter and Reddit, many media publications wrote articles discussing the phenomenon, while warning against eating Tide Pods. During the first two weeks of 2018, the number of cases of detergent pod ingestion reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) spiked. On January 17, 2018, The Washington Post stated that the AAPCC reported 37 cases of pod ingestion among teenagers so far that year, half of them intentional.
- For the original Reddit thread, see:
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