Eating Clean: A Brief History of Laundry Pods' Consuming Problem

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Credit: Illustration by Ad Age. Composite images istock

Tide Pods aren't new, and neither is the problem of people eating them. But a recent social media meme encouraging people to do just that has heightened the risk for a huge category—Procter & Gamble alone sold $1 billion in laundry pods last year, according to IRI. Now it's trying to stem the tide.

2012: Tide Pods launch, along with single-use laundry detergent packets from rivals All, Purex and Arm & Hammer.

2013: More than 10,000 kids try to eat the vividly colored Pods and other packets, presumably mistaking them for candy. P&G makes the first of several packaging changes to childproof the product.

2015: Laundry pack poisonings surpass 12,000, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The Onion fuels the PR fire with a satirical piece in which a toddler talks of his determination to eat a Tide Pod.

2016: Tide begins a media campaign to warn of the dangers of kids eating Pods and improves the packaging further. Poisonings begin trending downward despite continued strong sales growth as the segment nears $2 billion in sales.

March 2017: CollegeHumor posts a video warning against eating Tide Pods, while, of course, showing a guy eating Tide Pods.

December 2017: "Eating Tide Pods" becomes a social media meme, fueled by posts dubbing Pods "the forbidden fruit" and a video featuring folks in furry costumes using them as pizza toppings.

January 2018: The meme morphs into a Tide Pods Challenge daring people to put them in their mouths. Calls to poison-control centers spike.

Jan. 12, 2018: P&G commissions the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski for a video telling people Pods are for laundry, not eating. YouTube's autoplay feature queues up ensuing clips including a Tide Pods Challenge video and one from a company that makes candy resembling Tide Pods.

Jan. 18, 2018: Google and Facebook begin enforcing policies against videos and posts that encourage dangerous Pod abuse behavior.

Jan. 19, 2018: The furry Pods pizza and candymaking videos are now gone from YouTube. The CollegeHumor video, with 3.2 million views, and another showing Pods in a waffle iron are restricted to people 18 or over. Meanwhile, a Brooklyn pizzeria and a Missouri doughnut shop are each advertising Tide Pods-inspired baked goods that are, at least in theory, actually good enough to eat.

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