A food-poisoning expert says companies need to do more to prevent contamination as concern grows over copycats licking and spitting in food

Twitter/BlindDensetsuA woman was filmed licking a tub of ice cream and then putting it back in the in-store freezer.
  • Viral videos of people licking and spitting in food and drinks and then returning the contaminated goods to grocery stores’ shelves are sparking customer concerns.
  • A food-poisoning expert named Bill Marler said most customers shouldn’t worry about the gross videos, as dangerous contamination is more likely to happen at other stages in production.
  • Manufacturers might well worry about backlash against brands that are contaminated in videos, however, especially with the threat of copycats pulling similar stunts.
  • “It’s a little bit like terrorism,” Marler said. “You can do a lot, but you can only do so much.”
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A rash of viral tweets showing people licking or spitting in things like ice-cream containers and Listerine bottles are sparking customer concerns. But according to a food-poisoning expert, manufacturers are the ones who should be scared.

The police have been involved in at least two recent incidents in which people posted videos of themselves licking tubs of Blue Bell ice cream and then placing the tubs back in freezers.


Read more:
A man was arrested after posting a video of himself licking a tub of ice cream and putting it back on the shelf – even though he said he ended up buying it

A mother in Jacksonville, Florida, reportedly faces felony charges after a video of her daughter licking a tongue depressor went viral. Other viral videos appear to show shoppers spitting in a Listerine bottle and an Arizona tea jug.

The viral videos have sparked fury online, as customers condemn the contamination.

“You can get diseases from human saliva,” the food-poisoning advocate and attorney Bill Marler told Business Insider. “And, it is product tampering.”

Charges of product tampering can result in up to a 20-year prison sentence and thousands of dollars in fines. Marler expressed doubts over whether jail time was the right solution – especially for the 17-year-old who posted the original video of herself licking a tub of ice cream.

“They’re freaking stupid,” Marler said. “I don’t know if throwing them in jail is the right thing.”

Marler did say, however, that copycats were a concern. While there are few obvious prior examples of people risking felony charges to go viral on the internet, Marler notes that Instagram celebrities and other social-media users are known for “doing weird things.”

But even with the upswing of viral videos, Marler says, there is no reason for most customers to panic. Illnesses could spread if the licker has a communicable disease, but customers are more likely to get food poisoning from contamination at earlier stages in the production chain.

For example, in 2015 three people died in a listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell ice cream. Inspectors with the Food and Drug Administration found several violations in Blue Bell factories that could have contributed to the outbreak. No illnesses had been linked to any of the viral licking videos as of Wednesday.

Manufacturers, not shoppers, are the ones who might worry.

A video of product contamination going viral could seriously affect customers’ perception of a brand, even if no one gets sick. Marler says manufacturers should consider introducing tamper-resistant packaging that alerts customers if a product has been tampered with.

Marler acknowledged, however, that there were limits to what companies could do to prevent tampering. Some of the videos going viral were filmed months ago, meaning any updates to packaging would do little to prevent backlash.

“It’s a little bit like terrorism,” Marler said. “You can do a lot, but you can only do so much.”

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