‘Tide pod challenge’ calls attention to home poisoning risks

Tide Pods Laundry Detergent Capsules
Tide Pods Laundry Detergent Capsules by Austin Kirk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/aukirk/8422844630)], via Flickr

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the wake of recent hype in the news and social media about the so-called “Tide pod challenge,” an expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is reminding people about the dangers of look-alike products in the household.

The Tide pod challenge is a phenomenon in which teenagers and young adults take a dare to place often-colorful laundry detergent pods in their mouths and then post the video on social media channels. This intentional behavior is reckless and dangerous, according to Genevieve Christ, extension educator with Penn State Extension’s Pesticide Education Program.

But, she pointed out, accidental poisonings that occur because people mistake such household chemicals for something edible also is a real concern for families.

“Many household chemicals like laundry detergent pods, floor cleaner, windshield washer fluid, weed killer and mothballs can look like normal everyday food or drink products, especially when not in their original containers,” Christ said. “We call these ‘look-alikes’ because the shapes and colors of the products are very similar. Small children and the elderly easily can confuse these products and poison themselves.”

Children ingesting the contents of laundry detergent pods reportedly have suffered breathing difficulties, vomiting and loss of consciousness, sometimes leading to hospitalization. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that since 2012, eight children aged 5 and younger have died.

“To keep the people in your household safe, we highly recommend keeping products in their original packaging, storing them out of reach of small children, and using Mr. Yuk stickers,” Christ said. “Any product with a signal word on the label can cause harm even in small amounts and should be labeled with a Mr. Yuk sticker.”

She noted that signal words to look for are Caution, Warning, Danger and Danger Poison. “Teach young children that any product with a Mr. Yuk sticker never should be touched,” she advised. “We also encourage parents to avoid giving small children food products — like saltwater taffy, sugar cubes, and cookies made to look like laundry pods — that resemble these household chemicals.”

More information on poison prevention is available on the Health Resources & Services Administration website at https://poisonhelp.hrsa.gov/. Mr. Yuk Stickers can be obtained by sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to the Penn State Pesticide Education Program, Attention Mr. Yuk, 222 Special Services Building, University Park, PA 16802.


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