On 9 May 2016, a Texas man named John Graves published several photographs to Facebook alongside a claim that he had discovered a dead rat in his grandson's partially-consumed bottle of Dr Pepper:
Graves' status update read:
Nothing like your grandson drinking half a Dr Pepper only to find a dead rat floating on the bottle. Response from Dr Pepper was....."send us the bottle and we will let you know something in 6-8 weeks!" Are you kidding me? What if my grandson drank poison or disease? This was purchased in Galveston yesterday at Valero on 39th and Broadway. Beware people. Way to stand behind your products Dr Pepper.
On 9 May 2016 Graves provided further details about his claim to Houston news outlet KPRC, stating that the rat went unnoticed for a day after his three-year-old grandson opened and consumed half of the bottle of soda. Graves didn't indicate that the soft drink tasted different or that any note was taken of the (fairly large) rodent's presence inside the bottle, and Graves himself said the rat was a "pretty good size":
John Graves of Katy said his 3-year-old grandson, Kayden, drank the Dr Pepper on Sunday after they bought it in Galveston. The boy was given the soft drink while he sat in his car seat. He didn’t finish it, so they put the cap back on.
When they opened the 20-ounce bottle the next morning, they found a rodent floating inside. “Pretty good size. About 3 inches long, with a big tail,” Graves said.
They immediately took Kayden to his pediatrician to undergo some tests. Blood and urine samples were taken, and the state of Texas and the Centers for Disease Control were contact. They are now waiting for the results.
Graves said that a Dr Pepper spokesperson requested the bottle and rat be submitted to the company for testing, but that he was concerned about maintaining the sample's integrity and sought an independent analysis of the specimen:
The family also contacted Dr Pepper. A spokesperson told them and KPRC 2 that they want the bottle so they can run tests on it ... the Graves family wants to have its own testing done before handing the bottle over to Dr Pepper's people.
"I want to get the rat tested to see where it came from, how it got there, if there is any medical concerns we should be concerned about," Graves said. “There is no telling what could happen to that sample.”
As of Tuesday, the family was working with Dr Pepper to figure out if the rodent could be sent to an independent lab in Houston. Dr Pepper tells Channel 2 it would be happy to send the rodent to a qualified lab in Texas; however, at this point the only qualified lab the company is aware of is Alteca LTD in Kansas.
Food safety expert Jay Neal told the outlet that it was possible (but not probable) that a rodent could wind up in a sealed bottle of soda, noting that rats and mice were capable of entering small spaces. While Neal said the claim could be accurate, he also explained why it was an unlikely scenario, noting a small window during which such contamination could occur:
It’s washing the bottle, it’s filling the bottle, it’s putting the cap on the bottle, it’s putting the label on the bottle, all in less than 15 seconds[.]
In response to the viral controversy, Dr Pepper released a statement that described the claim as "virtually impossible" and that testing would take six to eight weeks from the date of receipt. In their statement, the brand maintained that the laboratory would be an independent third party (as Graves said he sought):
Nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our consumers. We take all consumer complaints very seriously, are very concerned about the call we received today from Mr. Graves and are investigating it as best as we can.
What we know from our experience is that given the controls and safeguards we have in our production facilities it is virtually impossible for any foreign object to enter any container during the bottling process. All of our containers enter our facility on pallets in our warehouse and remain covered until the moment they are placed on our high-speed filling lines. Once on the filling lines, they are inverted and rinsed out before they are filled and capped.
We have offered to dispatch a courier to pick up the product to take it out for testing by a third party forensics laboratory, but the consumer has declined this request. This lab would be able to analyze any rodent that got into the product, determine how it entered the container and even inspect the contents of its stomach. This process can take 6-8 weeks to yield conclusive findings. Until we have the opportunity to review the contents, we don’t have a way to do a full investigation.”
While Graves' story has not been explicitly disproven, skeptics pointed out that it showed many similarities to a man's 2015 claim that KFC served him a battered, fried rat, a story that was later revealed to be a hoax. It was also similar to a woman's 2005 claim that she discovered a severed finger in Wendy's chili, which later unraveled under scrutiny. Yet another, similar claim was disproven after experts said that Mountain Dew (and other soft drinks) could dissolve a mouse, thanks to the acids that incorporated into their flavoring agents to give them a tanginess and bite. In this case, the rat depicted appeared merely to be drowned, but in no way visibly decomposed.
As of 11 May 2016, Dr Pepper dispatched a courier to Graves' location to collect the rat and purportedly contaminated Dr. Pepper bottle for independent third-party testing; Graves refused the pickup attempt. No information is currently available as to whether Graves and the brand managed to come to an agreement about circumstances under which the specimen could be tested, and the claim remains unproven.