The musty odor strikes again. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has recalled one lot of Extra-Strength Tylenol caplets because of "a small number of odor reports." The 60,000-plus bottles join the hundreds of thousands of other bottles and packages of McNeil Consumer Healthcare drugs--and a smaller number of prescription-drug bottles--that were recalled because they smelled moldy.
J&J knows the culprit. It's a chemical byproduct of 2,4,6 tribromoanisole, a preservative used on wooden shipping-and-storage pallets. It's not linked with serious health problems, but some consumers have reported gastrointestinal symptoms triggered by the odor. Many of the recalled meds were made at a J&J plant in Puerto Rico; the current batch was manufactured in February 2009, the company said in a statement, but didn't specify where.
Of course, the moldy smell isn't the only problem that's touched off a J&J recall over the past 18 months or so. As Bloomberg notes, the company has announced about two dozen recalls since September 2009. By far the biggest was the massive children's drug recall in May 2010, prompted by quality-control problems at a plant in Fort Washington, PA, that's still closed for revamping. It's just one of the three J&J plants now operating under an FDA consent decree because of severe manufacturing violations.
Company executives have been making the rounds, promising to fix the quality lapses and earn consumers' trust again. The company has reintroduced at least one children's drug--grape flavored Children's Tylenol--but many remain absent from store shelves. Not only has the absence of those and other recalled products cost the company $600 million in sales, but also opened the door for competitors to steal away that business, perhaps permanently.