Has the Gold Standard of Product Recalls Lost Its Luster?

Johnson and Johnson’s response to the 1980s Tylenol contamination scare has long been considered the gold standard in product recalls. Indeed, it was this recall that effectively launched product recall insurance and created the idea of crisis management response teams. However, it now appears that J&J failed to follow its own historical lessons. A J&J subsidiary, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, produces, among other things, Tylenol Arthritis Pain 100. It appears that this (and perhaps other) products were contaminated with 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA), a chemical that apparently can cause sickness, or bodily injury. Based upon early news reports, the contamination appears to have originated more than 20 months ago, yet the recall was only initiated within the past several weeks. Predictably, a public relations nightmare and government investigations have resulted. Unfortunately, Santayana was probably right — “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”