Do you ever read the small print on packaging? We hesitate to suggest that the print be larger because that would mean another round of new packages and that means an increased cost.

At the dentist’s Monday, I saw a container of free samples of a new kind of a brand name of toothpaste and helped myself to a couple of them. I wondered what was different, or better, about this latest improvement and was surprised to read in all capital letters, “keep out of reach of children 6 and under.”

Wait a minute – don’t we want our littlest children brushing their teeth? Apparently not with this particular kind of toothpaste. The warning is against swallowing it – and warns if it is swallowed, to call the nearest poison control center.

As I checked other tubes of toothpaste in the medicine cabinet at home, I saw that they all carry this message. If we don’t want kids to swallow the toothpaste, we’d better stop flavoring it like candy or gum. As a matter of fact, is it okay for adults to swallow toothpaste? Something else to worry about!

Quite a few years ago, manufacturers of everything from food flavoring to drugs adopted something called a safety seal. This was usually a piece of plastic wrapped around the cap which prevented contamination of the ingredients. (These drastic measures were taken after an incident of random poisoning of an over-the-counter medicine which resulted in deaths.)

Most packaging today is pretty much tamper proof. Some manufacturers have gone a little overboard. I’m always surprised to see how easily a bottle of maple syrup or vinegar can be opened yet a can of baking powder requires the kitchen scissors to cut away the safety seal. Some jars of food have the seal, some don’t. We now have flip-top cans of soup and other foods, which if you’re not very careful, can inflict a mean little cut! I’ve always avoided those oblong cans of ham which required a tiny metal key thing to roll the top away and open the can. Today, even our favorite tomato soup means “gloving up” before opening.

Scissors are required to open a box of cereal, strip of crackers and package of “easy self-seal” sliced meat.

That’s progress in packaging, I guess. Years ago one of the big ad agencies I worked for had as a client a company which made shrink wrap and other packaging. I never knew before I worked there, exactly what that was – and today, of course, this company (and their ad agency) must be doing well since so many things now come in “blister packs” – that hard, molded plastic which needs a tool box to unpackage.

Blister packs are the next generation of shrink wrap. I guess pull-tabs on cans represent some kind of progress. One would think the technology and ingenuity of Americans could come up with a toothpaste that first-time tooth brushers could use safely. And canned goods which could be opened with a regular can opener, instead of inflicting pain to already arthritic hands.

I guess you could say we haven’t come a long way, baby.

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