If you’ve been anywhere near social media, local news, or late-night talk shows in the last few days, you’ve probably heard something about “NyQuil Chicken,” a supposedly viral TikTok “challenge” that’s exactly what it sounds like: cooking chicken in a marinade of cold medicine.
News about the supposed trend is usually accompanied by vomit-inducing photos of raw chicken simmering in dark green syrup. It’s both disgusting and, as the FDA recently reminded the public, just as toxic as it looks. But it turns out NyQuil Chicken was neither new, nor particularly viral, and the FDA’s bizarrely-timed warning may have backfired, making the meme more popular than ever.
First, a bit of history: As reporter Ryan Borderick points out in his newsletter Garbage Day, NyQuil Chicken originated as a joke on 4Chan in 2017. The meme briefly resurfaced in January where it got some traction on TikTok before once again fading away.
Then, last week, the FDA — inexplicably — issued a press release warning about the dangers of cooking chicken in NyQuil. In a notice titled “A Recipe for Danger: Social Media Challenges Involving Medicines,” the FDA refers to it as a “recent” trend. But they cite no recent examples, and it’s unclear why they opted to push out a warning more than eight months after the meme had first appeared on TikTok.
Now, in what we can only hope will be a valuable lesson on unintended consequences, we know that it was likely the FDA’s warning about NyQuil chicken that pushed this “challenge” to new levels of virality, at least on TikTok. TikTok has now confirmed that on September 14th, the day before the FDA notice, there were only five searches for “NyQuil chicken” in the app. But by September 21st, that number skyrocketed “by more than 1,400 times,” according to BuzzFeed News, which first reported the TikTok search data.
TikTok, which has recently taken steps to limit the spread of both dangerous “challenges” and “alarmist warnings” about hoaxes, is now blocking searches for “NyQuil Chicken.” Searches now direct users to resources encouraging users to “stop and take a moment to think” before pursuing a potentially dangerous “challenge.”
As both BuzzFeed and Gizmodo note, there’s little evidence that people are actually cooking chicken in NyQuil, much less actually ingesting it. That’s a good thing because, as the FDA makes very clear, doing so is not only extremely gross, but highly toxic. But the whole thing is yet another example of why we should all be more skeptical of panic-inducing viral “challenges.”