In 1982, the Maryland Poison Center reported almost 80 cases of people who had suffered nausea and diarrhea after drinking Sunlight dishwashing liquid. They had received free bottles of the stuff in the mail as part of a promotional campaign. The source of the confusion was a picture of lemons on the label as well as the phrase "with real lemon juice." This led many to conclude that the bottle contained some kind of lemonade. Or a lemon-flavored drink mixer. A lot of people added it to iced tea.
A spokesman for Lever Brothers, the manufacturer of the product, noted that the bottles also clearly said, "Sunlight dishwashing liquid."
Sunlight no longer uses the phrase "with real lemon juice."
Apparently they learned their lesson. But they've still got a picture of a lemon on their bottles.
Muncie Evening Press - July 15, 1982
Indianapolis Star - July 15, 1982
The bottle that caused the confusion
In defense of the people who drank the stuff, I came across a columnist, Dorothee Polson of The Arizona Republic
, who had warned in March 1980, at the very start of Sunlight's promotional campaign, that the bottle was potentially confusing. She wrote:
I think there should be a law against such packaging. The plastic squeeze bottle is bright lemon-yellow; the label carries pictures of the whole and cut-up lemons. Above them is the word 'New,' and below them the words 'with Real Lemon Juice'... The words 'dishwashing liquid' are the smallest words on the label... The appearance (is) similar to that of real lemon juice available fresh or frozen in a yellow plastic bottle.
I know at least one adult who tasted Sunlight, thinking it was lemon juice. And she can read very well.
Polson later received letters from readers who had mistakenly added the dishwashing liquid to their food. From her June 11, 1980 column:
Kathyanne Mascolo wrote to agree:
"I am another of those Sunlight disasters," she wrote. "After work, hurrying to prepare dinner, I grabbed the sample bottle that had been left at the front door, quickly read the label, and proceeded to pour 'real lemon juice' all over my 24 pieces of chicken.
"I had to waste my dinner; my family wound up eating eggs and toast. Needless to say, I will never buy this product."
Arizona Daily Star - July 23, 1980