On September 5 2019, Facebook user Seth Bowman shared the following post (archived here), alongside a claim his Red Bull energy drink was contaminated by a dead mouse. According to Bowman’s claim, he had nearly finished drinking the can of Red Bull when “chunks” alerted him to the presence of the former rodent:
So I drank a whole Red Bull the other night at work and found this at the bottom. I’ve tried contacting Red Bull and haven’t heard a word back. So do me a favor and let’s make this viral.
Bowman requested that predictably disgusted Facebook users do him “a favor” and “make this viral”; they did, sharing the post over 150,000 times. We did not see users sharing the post to Red Bull’s social media accounts, nor did we find any public acknowledgement of Bowman’s claim. A friend of the poster shared the claim to Reddit’s r/WTF, where readers were skeptical.
Bowman was certainly not the first person to claim they found a dead rodent in a soft drink or energy drink. In a 1988 newspaper column, folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand examined claims that at the time spread without Facebook or email, indicating they appeared to be as old as bottled soft drinks themselves, and instances of ostension — when people took the claim to real life.
Brunvand explained how the stories existed on two levels — one being the claims as they appeared as early as 1914, and another being representative of our fears involving handing off the responsibility for food safety from our homes to faceless corporations:
A search of published appeals-court records conducted in 1976 turned up 45 such cases against soda bottlers, the first in 1914. And one can only guess how many similar cases were never appealed or were settled out of court.
Most of the people who tell the mouse-in-Coke legend don’t know the legal history, though. What they do know is a good story, whether it’s told by a friend, a neighbor or co-worker. The tellers assume that somewhere, sometime, an actual lawsuit was brought against a soft-drink bottling company.
So while the lawsuits are real, the stories are not, because they are so far separated from the original facts that they’ve turned into folklore. In this way, a story can be both an actual event and a legend. And the mouse-in-Coke legends, like most urban legends, have lives of their own completely separate from the facts.
What has occurred, I believe, is something like this: The theme of foreign matter contaminating food is a popular one in urban legends. And “Coke” has become virtually a generic way to refer to soft drinks. So the legends get started and gain credibility from lawsuits that people vaguely remember, in which mice were said to be found in soda bottles. And naturally, it is usually Coke that is mentioned in the legend whether or not the original suits were against Coke.
As the legend spreads by word of mouth, the trauma is exaggerated, the drama heightened. And the size of the settlement, of course, grows and grows. The end result: The indignation against the giant corporation that is selling contaminated food is pumped up to a full measure of outrage.
In 2016, The Verge published a “brief history” of viral claims about dead mice or rats in sodas and energy drinks. Following yet another claim involving a deceased rodent and Dr. Pepper, the news organization examined several such claims, many of which appeared in 2012.
The article referenced a notable 2012 lawsuit against PepsiCo, brought by a man who alleged he found a dead mouse in a can of Mountain Dew:
Ronald Ball, 52, from Madison County, Ill., claims he tasted something foul in the can of drink he purchased from a vending machine at his work.
According to his lawsuit, Ball claims he spat out the soda, the Madison County Record reported. He said he “took a drink, and immediately became violently ill such that he began to vomit … The contents of said can of Mountain Dew were immediately poured into a Styrofoam cup wherein a dead mouse was found,” the lawsuit alleges.
Ball sent the mouse to PepsiCo — along with a letter of complaint — but the oil company worker says the soda giant destroyed the body of the mouse, and therefore, his evidence.
The incident happened in November 2009 and Ball [was] seeking $50,000 damages.
Ball’s suit led to a rather nauseating spate of articles about whether the composition of Mountain Dew would degrade or preserve the corpse of a small animal, with lawyers arguing that the beverage would rapidly dissolve a mouse’s remains:
Key to Pepsi’s legal argument is that there’s no chance a mouse’s corpse could survive, intact, for 15 months swimming in Mountain Dew. While published studies have not been conducted on how rapidly Mountain Dew would dissolve a mouse, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the neon green soda can eat away teeth and bones in a matter of months, and would likely do quite a number on a rodent.
“I think it is plausible that it could dissolve a mouse in a few months,” said Yan-Fang Ren of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, who has studied the effects of citric acid on bones and teeth. “But dissolving [the mouse] does not mean it will disappear, because you’ll still have the collagen and the soft tissue part. It will be like rubber.”
A similar claim was reported in 2011, involving the Monster brand of energy drinks. Another brand of energy drink was at the center of similar claims in 2016, when a consumer was purportedly sickened by a dead mouse in a beverage can:
[Jordan] Bell started dry heaving and went straight to a doctor, who advised he go to the hospital. At the Mission Hospital they contacted BC Poison Control and told Bell that in about 24 hours he would probably experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
And in March 2018, an Arkansas Red Bull drinker reported finding a rodent at the bottom of his can. His claim went viral on Facebook, but many users were skeptical of its legitimacy:
While [claimant Josh] Henley said it was not possible the rodent got inside the can when he left it in the car overnight, many people on social media said it was the highest possibility.
The video, which was shared [in March 2018], went viral and was viewed more than 100,000 times and counting. It was first shared by Henley on Facebook.
Some social media users also raised doubts about the legitimacy of the video.
Joshua Nightingale commented: “You drank it last night, most likely that mouse got in after you drank it and went to sleep. Wouldn’t you have noticed it last night after or while you were drinking it?” Another comment said: “It obviously went in after you drank it.”
In a statement to Mirror Online, a spokesman for Red Bull said: “It is inconceivable that a particle — let alone anything like this — could pass through the process of world-class, modern beverage manufacture.”
In April 2017, beverage corporation lawyers once again argued the claims were impossible, and that the specimen was not sufficiently decomposed:
[The claimant was] suing Coca-Cola for a modest amount, having medical bills related to his illness that total around $1,000, and he missed 60 hours of work. He also says that he lost thirty pounds due to his illness.
Coca-Cola, however, disputes that it’s possible to find such an intact mouse in one of its beverage cans. In the time that it would take for a mouse to be sealed inside a can at a bottling plant, then for the can to be distributed to a retail store and purchased, the mouse would have decomposed enough to have “compromised the can,” or given off gases that would make the can bulge or burst.
An attorney from Minnesota who is on the team representing Coke explained to the Mitchell Republic that the company “takes these cases extremely seriously and tries them all,” since allegations of mouse contamination are damaging to its brand. Settling for a modest amount would be cheaper and easier, but the company would rather defend itself at trial … The plaintiff is seeking $2,026 and general damages, plus interest.
That coverage raised two interesting aspects about dead-mouse-in-soda-can claims: that beverage companies maintain that they always take such suits to trial, and tacitly that claims of this sort seem to be somewhat common. It also appears that beverage manufacturers often feel confident rodent-in-soda claims are unlikely to hold up in court. The outlet quoted above also linked to a similar legal claim, with findings that the creature was a “toad” and that no mechanism for its presence was ever determined.
In 2012, however, Ball’s claim was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and it was conditional in part on PepsiCo disclaiming responsibility. The 2009 case involving what appeared to be a toad yielded little useful information with respect to such contamination and how it might occur. At the time, a PepsiCo spokesman declined via email to speculate on how the toad got there:
The FDA also conducted an investigation at the local Pepsi bottling plant in Orlando from August 4 to 11  and “did not find any adverse conditions or association to this problem,” spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said.
“We have not determined when or how the contamination occurred,” DeLancey said in an e-mail.
Pepsi says the FDA results “affirmed” the company’s confidence “in the quality of our products and the integrity of our manufacturing system,” according to spokesman Jeff Dahncke.
“The speed of our production lines and the rigor of our quality control systems make it virtually impossible for this type of thing to happen in a production environment. In fact, there never has been even a single instance when a claim of this nature has been traced back to a manufacturing issue … The FDA conducted a thorough inspection of our Orlando facility and found no cause for concern. In this case, the FDA simply was unable to determine when or how the specimen entered the package.”
When asked if Pepsi believed it was not responsible for the animal getting into the can, Dahncke said, “We have addressed the facts of the investigation and stated our position. It’s not appropriate for us to comment beyond that.”
A September 2019 Facebook post claiming a user found a dead mouse in his can of Red Bull was virally popular, but neither unique in structure nor even as it pertained to Red Bull. Stories about dead rodents in bottled or canned soft drinks date back more than a century, and occasionally cross from the realm of folklore into the news by way of claims like the one to hand. A great many stories about a dead mouse in soda are just stories, but a few escalated to lawsuit levels.
We contacted Red Bull to determine if Bowman formally submitted his claim, but have not yet received a response.