ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A bizarre and dangerous phenomenon sprung up late last year, and it's only getting worse. People, mostly teens, are challenging each other to eat the laundry detergent capsules called Tide PODS and post the videos online. It's called the Tide POD Challenge. NPR's Alina Selyukh has more.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: If you've never seen it, a Tide POD looks like a little rounded packet, white with two separate swirls of liquid, blue and orange. It's extremely concentrated laundry detergent. But these days, the design of the PODS has inspired a new trend in food. Chefs and bakers are using frosting and food coloring to replicate the Tide POD look on doughnuts, pizzas and other edible items. That's because they're cashing in on a trend of teenagers trying to eat the actual Tide PODS.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: A dangerous trend...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Kids swallowing laundry pods...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Intentionally ingesting highly toxic...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Highly toxic...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Highly toxic chemicals.
SELYUKH: It's meant to be a dare. The Internet is a petri dish of these outlandish challenges. Kids eat spoonfuls of cinnamon or try to drink a whole gallon of milk because I guess it's supposed to be impressive or somehow cool. The jokes about Tide PODS have been around for years. Satirical sites The Onion and CollegeHumor have both lampooned the candy-like appearance with a colorful swirl on top.
CHRIS LIVAUDAIS: The swirling might imply how active ingredients are and how well it can do the washing job.
SELYUKH: Chris Livaudais runs the Industrial Designers Society of America. He says the vivid colors make sense. That's what liquid detergent looks like.
LIVAUDAIS: And so all that plays into the psyche of the person shopping to see a product and believe in its value and use it.
SELYUKH: And somewhere along the way in December, teenagers thought it looked tasty enough to eat.
DAMON JONES: This is clearly a case of a joke gone too far.
SELYUKH: Damon Jones is with Procter & Gamble, the maker of Tide PODS. He says the company has faced criticism for the design in the past, but it was because of toddlers. Every year, poison control centers get at least 10,000 cases of children under the age of 5 getting hurt by laundry packets.
JONES: We've implemented child-resistant packaging. We've added bittering agents to the product to make, you know, people spit them out if they accidentally ingest them. We've made it tougher to bite into.
SELYUKH: But this is different. This is grown children knowingly choosing to bite into a packet clearly advertised as laundry detergent, which could kill you. Last year, poison control centers handled 53 cases of intentional misuse of the PODS - mostly teenagers. So far in January alone, the number has already almost tripled.
JONES: I think there's a clear distinction between accidental ingestion by someone who is making an honest mistake versus, you know, people who I would argue should know better about putting household cleaners in their mouth.
SELYUKH: And both Livaudais and Jones say it's a stretch to blame the intentional choice on design, which the company for now does not plan to change. And if you or someone you know is injured, call the poison hotline - 1-800-222-1222. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.