If you haven’t seen this product, you should still know about it…especially if you have small children. Tide Pods were first introduced to the market in 2012, and within the first three months, there were more than 700 calls about them to Poison Control Centers around the country. For reference, in 2011 there were about 8000 total calls about laundry detergent poisonings, and in 2012, that number had sky-rocketed. More than 6000 calls were specifically about the new laundry pods. Poison Control Centers were accustomed to guiding parents through mild upset stomachs with traditional laundry detergent ingestions, but the ultra-concentrated pods were producing a different set of symptoms. The reports of more severe upset stomachs, many with persistent vomiting created nationwide concern. Some children had respiratory symptoms so severe they landed in the hospital.
Proctor and Gamble is the company responsible for developing this all-in-one laundry solution. Perfect for the college student who doesn’t want to lug laundry products along with mountains of dirty clothes to the laundromat, but the Pods are equally convenient for parents who are grateful for any small convenience. They come in a clear, pop-top container shaped like a cookie jar, and the actual Pod looks a little like a jello blob or a candy gummy. It’s easy to see why a small child would think the pods are edible. Any toddler or early pre-school age child who finds a Pod for the first time would definitely be curious. It smells nice and looks tasty (although ONE bite proves that is not the case!) Once alerted to the problem, to their credit Proctor and Gamble went back to the design board. In 9 of 10 cases where Poison Control was called for an accidental ingestion, children were able to get in to the container of Pods by themselves. A redesign replaced the clear cookie jar shape with an opaque container that sported a double latch top. My suggestion? Make it look like eggplant and asparagus with the subtle smell of sautéed onions. Kids will never touch the stuff…
Want to know more? Diane Sawyer and the folks at ABCNews did a very nice piece highlighting the problem and making a concerted effort to educate the public. The Consumer Products Safety Commission and the CDC both have played important roles in educating the public about the possible danger.
My take-home is that we are all responsible for keeping children safe. If you have small children, you may want to weigh the convenience of the laundry pods against the increased risk of a serious poisoning. As with all household products, store them carefully. Teach children with ‘Show and Tell’ that laundry pods are Poison, that they are not candy or toys. Share this information with a friend who might not have heard about the risk, and join me in asking Proctor and Gamble to more visibly label the pods with a better caution warning. I am secretely hoping that when sales begin to lag, they will take my asparagus/onion idea, redesign the product again and take full credit for altruism in the next wave of marketing.
Until then, stay safe and attentive.
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD
(and your Partners in Pediatrics)