Product Tampering

The intentional adulteration or corruption of goods post manufacturing. It can be done to cause panic or hurt consumers, or faked to extort money from the manufacturer through product liability lawsuits.

  • Jaffa oranges injected with mercury -- Europe (February 1978)
    health officials in 18 countries received notification that 'oppressed Palestinian workers' had injected Israeli oranges at source with liquid mercury. The Times newspaper of 2nd February 1978 published part of the letter:- "Our aim is not indiscriminately to kill your population but to sabotage the Israeli economy." The U.K. was the largest single importer of Jaffa oranges at this time, being in receipt of 700 million fruits each year. Oranges accounted for about a tenth of all Israeli exports. Whether propaganda or not, the Israeli Citrus Marketing Board was quick to suggest that the contaminated fruit, discovered in the Netherlands, the then West Germany, France, Sweden and the U.K. must have been poisoned at point of retail sale. Gross discolouration, it was claimed, would have occurred if the fruit had contained mercury during the three weeks it was in transit.

    Menachem Begin brushed aside P.L.O. denials of involvement saying "The barbarism of people who poison oranges is without parallel in human history" (Newsweek 13.2.78). Alick Glass of the (U.K.) National Fruit and Potato Trade Association best summarised the dilemma - "What we are frustrated about is that the extent of the problem is minute yet sums variously estimated at #100 million are at stake" (Times 14.2.78). As a result of all the publicity fruit sales plummeted throughout Europe.

  • Extra-Strength Tylenol cyanide deaths -- Chicago (1982)
    One of the most memorable events was a product tampering case involving the deaths of seven people in the Chicago area between September 29th and October 1st, all as a result of cyanide poisoning after having taken Tylenol.

  • Girl Scout cookies with needles (April 1984)
  • Salmonella typhimurium bacteria in restaurant salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon area by the Rajneesh cult (Sep 1984)
  • Glico-Morinaga candy cyanide poisoning incidents -- Japan (1984)
  • Excedrin cyanide deaths -- Westchester county, NY (Feb 1986)
  • Lipton Cup-A-Soup cyanide (1986)
  • glass in baby food (1986)
  • Tylenol cyanide [again] (1986)
  • Chilean fruit scandal (Mar 1989)
    In the United States the most intensive investigation in the history of the Food and Drug Administration commenced at 3.50 p.m. on the afternoon of 2nd March 1989 when an employee of the Public Health Inspection Service received a telephone call to the effect that fruit being exported from Chile into the United States and Japan was being injected with cyanide. The caller wished to draw attention to the living conditions of the poor, adding that too many people in his country were starving due to increased living costs. He stated that killing policemen and placing bombs had not worked. At this time the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front and the Leftist Revolutionary Front had claimed responsibility for just such activity, though the caller did not name them. The campaign appeared to be directed at bringing about change in the Augusto Pinochet government.

    Chilean fruit entering the United States, mainly through the Port of Philadelphia, is exported onwards to Canada. Three ships were identified which were about to dock and between them they contained 964,000 boxes of fruit. Two subsequent 'phone calls confirmed that this was no hoax. The last, on 17th March, was to the American Embassy in Santiago. It was established that some 1.4 million tons of Chilean fruit was en-route to the U.S. for import. Thousands of boxes were eventually opened by FDA investigators and a suspect case was discovered. Photographs showed two grapes that appeared to have crystalline rings around small puncture marks. After careful preparation the suspect fruits were subjected to the cyantesmo test which will detect the presence of as little as 10-millionths of a gram of cyanide in a contained environment. The tests proved positive. A second chloromine 'T' test confirmed the results of the first. It took some time to realise that crystalline potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide change into hydrogen cyanide gas in acid fruit. Any evidence would thus be dissipated into the atmosphere.

    A decision had to be made as to whether to bar all fruit imports (which the Canadians supported). In the end some 4,781,361 cases of fruit were examined before the authorities in Chile undertook to inspect before export (28). The FDA press release on their findings was succinct but speedily agreed: "The Food and Drug Administration said today that it has found and confirmed traces of cyanide in a small sample of grapes from Chile and as a result is detaining all grapes and other fruit from that country" (13.3.89).

  • Goody's Headache Powder cyanide (1992)
  • Sudafed deaths by Joseph Meling -- Washington state (1993)

As a result of the cyanide incidents, tamper-evident product packaging became standard in the pharmaceuticals industry, and capsules replaced with sealed caplets.


Feb 2004 In Stayton, Oregon, Tara Ebner opens an old box of macaroni and cheese from her kitchen pantry and discovers two used syringes inside. "When I squeezed the box, there was two syringes sticking up out of the macaroni and cheese." Residue on the gear later tests positive for amphetamines.

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