Posted on February 10, 2009 by Dennis Salazar

The 1982 Tylenol Murders and the Packaging Industry’s Response

Tylenol and tamper evident packaging

Some of our readers may be too young to remember but seeing the Tylenol poisonings back in the news has brought back some very profound, mixed feelings.

The Tragedy

For those who may not be aware, in September of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area were poisoned and died after ingesting tainted Tylenol. This horrible event literally hit close to home since several of the deaths occurred within miles of where my family and I lived at the time. Investigators quickly determined the product was being tainted and then placed on the retail shelf for innocent people to buy and take home. There was of course an immediate recall and this product was quickly removed from the shelf. From that moment on food and drug safety, and packaging would never be the same.

The Impact on People

No one was obviously impacted as dramatically and tragically as the families who lost loved ones to that senseless, cowardly crime. However, everyone else was affected as well because there was an immediate panic and concern over any product that went into or on to the human body. Every food and drug product was looked at suspiciously and the widespread fear was very real because we all discovered how very vulnerable we all are to the act of one madman.

The Impact on the Manufacturer of Tylenol

Tylenol was made by the McNeil division of Johnson and Johnson and their response was decisive, swift and is still considered to be a textbook example of crisis management. Even though their market share immediately plunged and some thought it would be the end of that popular brand, Tylenol was again the market leading analgesic within a relative short few years. One of the important ways they were able to regain the public trust was by leading the industry in terms of security packaging.

The Impact on the Packaging Industry

Most Americans, especially those of us in the packaging industry quickly learned a new phrase – tamper evident packaging. We packaging sales professionals recognized the obvious opportunity but also the responsibility to help protect the public. New products were quickly designed and we as consumers were almost instantly protected with multiple layers of security to prevent or at least discourage a crime like this ever happening again. Shrink bands, lidding materials, over wraps, safety seals and countless other products were delivered and in place with almost astonishing speed.

Then and Now

Let’s all hope the police finally have sufficient evidence to prosecute the individual they have always suspected, and he is finally brought to justice.

Looking back it is very difficult to acknowledge the good that came out these senseless murders but I do think it was one of the packaging industry’s moments to shine. Much like what we are currently experiencing in the area of sustainability and the need to protect our planet – there is a major threat to all of us and packaging can and will be a major contributor to the solution.