P&G says it’s confident that these two studies offer sufficient evidence that appearance isn’t a factor in pod-related injuries. Arthur Caplan, founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine, disagrees. Caplan says that manufacturers have to “use the best science” to make their products safer, and that relying on one data set, as P&G appears to have done, is not a sufficient approach. The company, Caplan says, should also examine “data from other products that bears on this question.”
To prove or disprove a connection, health professionals say, P&G would need to study how pods’ smell, feel, and appearance—including Tide Pods’ multicolored swirls—appealed to vulnerable populations. For example, “you would need to do a randomized controlled trial, varying pod designs and monitoring reactions to them” to know for sure which factors attract young kids, says Brussoni, the child psychologist. “But to my mind, why bother? Why have these colors anyway for a product for an adult that’s doing laundry?”
For now, such research doesn’t appear to be in the cards—for any manufacturer. Jones disputes the premise of studies like those described by Brussoni. “We don’t put two different pods in front of a kid,” P&G’s Jones says, “and say, ‘Grab one.’ It’s not a real-life situation.” Rather than changing the pod design, P&G has stressed in its conversations with Fortune that making packaging more secure and educating caregivers about safe use are the most important measures it can take to improve safety. Henkel, whose laundry detergent brands include Persil and All, declined to discuss possible safety improvements but said it was compliant with the current voluntary standard. Church & Dwight, whose brands include OxiClean and Arm & Hammer, did not respond to Fortune’s requests for comment.
Vincent Weill, who led P&G’s efforts to incorporate design innovations into the Tide Pods product between 2012 and 2017, and who now works at a company that is not a competitor, tells Fortune that he was involved with projects to make pods safer that have continued since he left the company. Among them were reformulating the liquid to be less toxic and strengthening the packets to be more resistant to bursting or leaking.
P&G declined to comment on the projects described by Weill or any other specific possible changes. Jones describes the company’s effort to make pods safer as an “ongoing journey” of continual improvements.