Until the FDA posted about it, NyQuil chicken was not a social media trend — just a revolting shitpost from the halls of viral infamy. Now it’s trending on Twitter, and dozens of news articles — “Don’t cook your chicken in NyQuil,” CBS warned — have been written about a “social media challenge” that doesn’t really exist.
In a Sept. 15 news release on the FDA’s official website titled “A Recipe for Danger: Social Media Challenges Involving Medicines,” the agency warned that the social media video challenge that encourages people to cook chicken in NyQuil is “unsafe.”
As for who would ever attempt to cook chicken in cold medicine, the answer is, of course, 4chan. NyQuil chicken has been internet folklore for years — in 2017, a user who went by “cock” posted a series of photos of boiling chicken tenders in green NyQuil, attempting to make it into a burrito, then putting it in a blender with red NyQuil and straining it through their French press. Screenshots posted to Imgur went viral on Reddit. In January 2022, a few videos about the concoction sparked news coverage. BuzzFeed News found some now-deleted TikToks from earlier this month in which people stitched themselves reacting with horror to those earlier viral videos, but did not make the chicken themselves.
A spokesperson for TikTok told BuzzFeed News that they haven’t noticed this trend on the platform. Searches for “NyQuil chicken” on TikTok have been redirected to a warning about viral challenges since January 2022.
Because posts about NyQuil chicken are removed from TikTok for violating community guidelines, it’s hard to pinpoint what might have triggered the FDA’s statement. The FDA has not responded to a request for comment to clarify why the agency issued a statement now, and if there are any reports of people becoming ill from eating chicken cooked in cold medicine.
As we saw in the past when Tide warned people not to eat its laundry pods, when businesses or government authorities issue warnings about social media challenges that aren’t even popular, they trigger news coverage that then informs the public about something silly and dangerous.
“Sleepytime chicken” was just another goofy gross-out food that no one was actually trying to eat. Hours after TMZ wrote about the announcement — a week after the FDA issued its warning — “NyQuil chicken” was trending on Twitter with thousands of new posts every hour.
Making the situation even more unusual is the fact that the FDA rarely posts lengthy statements about viral challenges. The most recent one addressed on the FDA’s website was the Benadryl challenge, which encouraged people to take large doses of the allergy medicine to trigger hallucinations. It first appeared on TikTok in 2020 and resulted in at least one death, and was mentioned again in the FDA’s NyQuil chicken post.
There have been no reported deaths or illnesses from NyQuil chicken so far. But a lot more people now know about it.