Have you felt stressed today? – Either way, you should not reach for a Squishy. Even less, you should give these colorful foam dolls to your little ones to play with. Because with the fun deformable toys, not only small parts can come loose, they can also stink quite dangerously.

Some of these softballs may smell quite pleasant. But this is deceptive: After a thorough investigation, researchers at the Fraunhofer IVV assume that an originally present disturbing odor was specifically masked with pleasant odorous substances.

Analysis Methods From Aroma Research

For their work, the scientists Prof. Andrea Büttner and Christoph Wiedmer drew on new analytical methods from aroma research. This enabled them to specifically detect and identify the substances. Their result: The smell of the Squishy’s examined showed various solvent-like notes. At the same time, the scientists also found pleasant odors such as coconut or caramel.

“We were able to detect the solvents 2-butoxyethanol and cyclohexanone in the product. This correlates with the solvent-like odors. We also found gamma-Nonalactone and Ethyl maltol, which smell like coconut and caramel”, said food chemist Christoph Wiedmer, who was in charge of the study, summarizing the results. And he adds:

Based on our data, we assume that these were added by the manufacturer to mask the unpleasant odor.”

And that seems to be partly successful. Together with their team, the scientists carried out a personal sensory test. Meaning, they smelled for themselves. And during the individual evaluation, two out of seven test persons found the smell of the Squishy’s pleasant.

© Fraunhofer IVV

But Wiedmer warns:

The proven solvents are classified as harmful to health when inhaled and should therefore be avoided instead of covered.”

Further Investigations Necessary

However, the extent to which the substances found have an exact effect on humans still needs to be clarified in further investigations. The results nevertheless provide valuable clues for manufacturers and supervisory authorities, as Prof. Büttner explains:

“The findings will make it easier for the control authorities to investigate the safety of products from international trade. Concerning this problem, especially the role of the countries of origin of the products and the Internet trade should be examined.” Büttner also points out, that the global flow of goods is becoming increasingly complex and opaque. Thus, the challenges for consumer protection today are becoming enormous. Büttner is therefore convinced:

Our findings offer analysts working in quality assurance new possibilities for the development of targeted detection methods. They are the basis for the development of avoidance strategies and concepts for improving product safety.”

The results were recently published in the renowned journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.