McNeil's handling of recall putting doubts in minds of parents?

More than 40 children's liquid medications, including Motrin and Tylenol products, have been recalled worldwide because of 'potential manufacturing residue'. McNeil Consumer Healthcare issued the massive recall last weekend. The company, however, is being extremely tight-lipped about the actual reason for the recall - a move that is opening the door to rumour, speculation and concern for many parents.

It takes a special kind of trust for a parent to administer a medicine to their sick child - trust in the company's commitment to quality. McNeil's reluctance to explain the precise nature of the recall may be giving parents second thoughts as they reach for the medicine cabinet.

The company's official response was that the products may not meet "required manufacturing specifications". Talk about vague. When pressed by the Globe and Mail, the company's Canadian spokesperson, Tina Payregatt, said the products may contain "particulate matter". "In other cases, it may be residue from the manufacturing process," she said.

She also said that none of the products pose a safety threat to Canadians. So why the need for a large scale recall of more than three dozen products? Adding even more confusion are news reports from the United States indicating the recalled products may contain tiny metallic particles that are a residue of the manufacturing process. Some products recalled in the U.S. may also contain higher amounts of active ingredients or other dosing problems.

The Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis crisis a few years ago reminded us that the public can forgive a company if that company does the right thing and is open and honest in its communications. Johnson & Johnson (the parent company of McNeil) practically invented this approach in 1982 after seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. They pulled all the products off the shelves and were completely open and forthcoming in the media.

Their handling of that crisis changed the way medicine is packaged and made the company stronger in the long run. I wonder what the company's leadership from that era would think about McNeil's handling of this recall today. I'm guessing it would be the same reaction many parents are having - frustration and disappointment.