Procter & Gamble Co. is adding a bitter taste to the outside layer of its laundry packets, and making other changes, in another move to help mitigate potential child detergent poisoning.
The move comes as new rules covering laundry packets just took hold last month in Europe, and Congress is looking at doing the same here in the United States.
Single-dose laundry detergent packets have soared in popularity in recent years thanks to their ease of use compared with large containers of liquid or powdered detergents.
But the small size and brightly colored designs of the water-soluble pouches have created an unintended danger.
Young children can be attracted to single-dose packets of the highly concentrated detergent, which can lead to accidental ingestion and poisoning.
Cincinnati-based P&G said the new bitter taste is being added to its Tide, Gain and Ariel brands of laundry packets in North America this fall.
The move is part of a larger laundry packet safety awareness campaign, called Up, Up and Away, being conducted in conjunction with Safe Kids Worldwide, a group dedicated to preventing child injuries.
It was just on June 1 that new European Commission rules covering laundry detergents took hold. They require “an adverse agent” that “elicits oral repulsive behavior within a maximum time of 6 seconds, in case of accidental oral exposure.”
The packet also must retain liquid content for at least 30 seconds when placed in water at 20° C, or 68° F, and pass compression testing.
P&G said it is bringing those European standards to North America.
The new European Commission rules also require that single-use, water soluble doses be contained in “opaque or obscure” outer packaging to impede the view of the product. The outer packaging also has to be child resistant “by requiring coordinated action of both hands with a strength that makes it difficult for young children to open it.”
P&G previously made changes to its outer packaging, which are now opaque, with what the company calls more secure closures.
But the company said there still can be problems because those outer containers can be left open or individual packets can be removed from the containers and left outside of those containers.
“Accidents happen regardless of a laundry pac's color or design, so we are focused on reducing access to the packet and its contents,” said Shailesh Jejurikar, president of P&G Fabric Care, North America, in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced proposed legislation earlier this year aimed squarely at the problem.
“Anyone with common sense can see how dangerous it is to have liquid detergent in colorful, bite-sized packets that children will inevitably swallow,” Speier said in a statement when the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act was first introduced in February.
“These packets must be subject to the same robust safety measures and warning labels that we already expect to on detergent, medicine, and similar household products,” she said then.
A spokeswoman for P&G declined to comment beyond what was issued by the company in a news release announcing the bitter-tasting additive.
P&G said designing the packet to allow for a delayed release of the product “will help give a child the chance to spit the packet out.” And the compression standards are designed to withstand the average squeezing pressure of a small child, the company said.
“This is the latest in a series of interventions in Europe, where incident rates have also dropped in countries like Italy, the United Kingdom and Ireland,” P&G said.
An estimated 12,000 calls are made to the poison control centers in the United States each year because of laundry packets, the company said.
A medical journal, Pediatrics, examined statistics from 2012 and 2013 and reported that more than 700 children were hospitalized in the United States during that two-year period due to laundry detergent packet exposure. The journal reported there were two deaths.
While the study examined exposure to children ages 6 and younger, the journal indicated children under 3 accounted for 73.5 percent of the cases.
P&G, the laundry packet market leader, indicated it has seen a decline in the rate of incidents relative to the number of units in the market.
“But we want to see more progress which is why we're taking these important additional steps,” Jejurikar said in the statement.
Consumer Reports, when examining the issue, has called for an inner wrapper around each individual detergent unit.