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Ooh, This One Is A Slow Burn

, , , | Right | November 30, 2020

Tap water in Holland is ridiculously clean. Pretty much the only ways to get water that is undrinkable or contaminated is having your toilet output connected to your tap by bad plumbing or drawing straight from the canals.

I work in the laboratory for a company that produces flower food. We make those little packets that come with bouquets, but we also make also bulk solutions that florists and such put in the buckets to keep flowers fresh. Most of our products are not unlike detergent or lemonade in that you have to dilute them in a certain dosage for optimal results.

One part of the job is troubleshooting, both for internal issues and for external issues like complaints about our product.

One time, we get a complaint from a new client saying that our product is too acidic and is killing the flowers. Immediately, alarm bells start ringing! Our product does contain a bit of acid because flowers actually prefer this, but too much of a good thing is obviously bad. If this customer is correct, we’ve probably shipped a bad batch to at least twenty other customers.

First, we receive a sample of our applied product. The customer is correct in that this is by far more acidic than flowers can handle. While further analysis suggests the dosage is correct — a common cause of these kinds of issues — the results are not entirely conclusive since the product has been used, so some of the components may have been absorbed by the flowers or have degraded.

About two weeks later, we finally get a sample of our pure product. We run all the checks on it and the results are perfect! This batch could have won an award for meeting our standards! It’s a relief for the sales team, but it thickens the mystery for us and the client. We prepare our own dosage and run checks on it, and we order some flowers and put them in the solution, and everything shows this product is fine.

We double-check with our consultant who reported the complaint and he guarantees us that the client is using the correct dosage.

Another week later, our consultant calls my coworker because he is still anxious to hear if we have found any explanation. Despite our best efforts, putting about 50% of our workforce on it for three weeks now, we haven’t.

Consultant: “That really makes me question your skills. You agree that the diluted solution the client uses is bad, but you claim the pure product is good. Clearly, something isn’t adding up.”

Coworker: “Well, at this point, the only thing we haven’t tested is the client’s water, but since it’s the same Dutch tap water that we use, that seems a very unlikely cause.”

Consultant: “Agreed. They just use tap water with some hydrochloric acid added to prevent bacterial growth.” *Pause* “Why are you laughing so hard?”

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