How a Crisis Made Us Band Together

I’m going to start this story with a quiz. There’s a type of heat shrink material that you run across all the time but you probably don’t even realize it. You may even have some of it hanging out in more than one room at home right now.

I’ll give you time to think about it, so to prepare yourself go grab a fresh bottle of water from the fridge. If thinking about it too much gives you a headache, you might want to pop open your favorite over-the-counter analgesic and have a couple.

Meantime, here’s the story behind the story.

A sudden panic

It’s Chicago, 1982. September 30 to be precise, when medical officials announce that two brothers and a twelve-year-old girl died the previous day after each received a lethal dose of cyanide.

Two other women also die, and one is left in critical condition. She turns out to be the only known survivor.

All of them have been poisoned with cyanide.

How are you coming with that answer, by the way?

When authorities figure out how these people were poisoned, it leads to a major product recall and mass panic. Every one of them had taken Extra-Strength Tylenol, which they had bought at the store. The bottles had been pried open, the capsules tampered with, and then the packaging resealed and returned to store shelves.

In October, there are government hearings about designing tamper-resistant packaging to which the FDA replies that there is no quick fix. Just over two months later, the first tamper-resistant packages of Tylenol are shipped to stores.

No “quick fix,” indeed. You can read the entire timeline for yourself, but the short story is that, long before the government deadline of February 1984, most manufacturers had already made the switch — and you’ve probably already guessed by now that the solution involved heat shrink.

Making tampering obvious

Specifically, the trick is called a heat shrink band, and it can do for packaging what heat shrink tubing does for wires and cables. It protects it, secures it, and makes it obvious if it’s been opened or otherwise messed with.

Of course, it’s been around so long on consumer goods that there are probably very few of us who don’t remember always experiencing that satisfying “snap” when a twist of the lid breaks the seal, letting us know that we’re not about to poison ourselves. What is interesting is how widespread the practice became, quickly spreading beyond over-the-counter medications and extending to pretty much everything to come in a bottle with a lid.

There are a few exceptions, of course, like certain jars of sauce or bottles of juice that make a loud “pop” when you turn the metal lid and release a vacuum, but for the most part you’re more likely to find — and trust — a heat shrink band.

Also note that there are two kinds of tamper protection in packaging. The minimum is tamper-resistant, which just makes it impossible to open something without breaking a seal or damaging the container.

The other is tamper-evident packaging, which is designed to make it obvious to the consumer that the seal has been broken. This often involves printed warnings on the label itself that will rip down the middle of the text if the package is opened or the edges of hard plastic seals that will curl up when they break away.

There are six kinds of tamper-evident packaging, with heat shrink bands at the top of the list — and bands aren’t limited to bottles. You’ve probably seen them on ice cream containers as well, whether round or rectangular. If you’ve had to break a bit of brittle plastic in order to open the container, that was a shrink band as well.

A band for every use

Buy Heat Shrink carries various kinds of shrink bands, depending on your needs. If you don’t need any printing, then our 1” Perforated Clear Shrink Bands are ideal.

Available in preshrunk widths from 30 to 235mm (1 3/16 to 9 1/4 inches) they will securely keep the lid on anything from a small eye-dropper bottle all the way up to a 5 1/2 inch gift tin or cookie jar. They are perforated for easy removal by the consumer.

If you want to make it more obvious that an item has been sealed for the consumer’s protection, then try out Safety Shrink Bands, also available in a 1 inch height and pre-shrunk widths from 48 to 125 mm (1 7/8 to 4 7/8 inches) to seal everything from a pharmaceutical vial or standard spice jar up to a sauce jar or condiment container. These bands come pre-printed with “Sealed for Your Protection” in a spiral pattern.

Finally, you can get Non-Perforated Shrink Bands in 1 inch height in sizes from 30 to 125 mm (1 3/16 to 4 7/8 inches) when you don’t need easy-opening or printed bands.

Multiple uses, multiple choices

All of our shrink bands are available in lots of 50, 200, or 1,000, meaning you can buy them in sufficient quantity for retail or wholesale packaging or in small enough quantities to create your own, personalized items.

Your imagination is the limit there. If you’re into canning, then you can add that extra touch of security for sharing your preserves or jams, or bake your own cookies and seal them in designer tins as gifts.

But don’t stop at food! Think outside the jar to create custom party or wedding favors with the unique touch of truly having been hand-crafted and sealed for each guest.

Instead of wrapping paper, put that gift in a tin, jar, or other lidded container to throw the recipient off the scent — or hide that engagement ring in an apparently sealed vitamin bottle or the like.

Who said that consumer packaging couldn’t also be crafty?

Bad beginning, happy ending

It’s pretty remarkable to realize that a terrible tragedy that happened nearly forty years ago quickly led to something so useful and ubiquitous to the point that we barely think about it anymore. It’s just become a part of life.

You may not have even really noticed it much before this article, but take a while to realize how almost everything you buy is sealed, and you’ll get a look at the great variety of shrink bands that are available out there.

Once they’ve given you ideas, come back, check out our selection, and let us fulfill all of your container-sealing and anti-tampering needs.

How a Crisis Made Us Band Together