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Poison and Injury Prevention during the Holidays

It is that time of year: Family gatherings, decorations, gifts, delicious food and warm fireplaces. But these traditions can place a young child at risk for preventable injuries and poisonings.

The following are safety tips to help ensure that every family has a happy, safe holiday season.

Holiday Plants

Christmas Cactus: A popular plant during the holiday season with has rosy purplish, red flowers that appear at Christmas time. This plant is considered non-toxic. See photo called Christmas cactus.

Holly berries: The bright red berries of this plant are especially attractive to small children. Swallowing more than 1 or 2 berries can result in nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea. See photo called Holly berries.

Jerusalem Cherry: Swallowing this ornamental plant can result in vomiting, redness of the skin, drowsiness or restlessness, and hallucinations. This plant has bright orange and dark red berries. See photo called Jerusalem cherry.

Mistletoe: All parts of the plant contain toxic substances and if eaten can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. One to two berries or leaves eaten by a child will NOT result in serious harm. As a precaution when hanging mistletoe in your home, place it in a piece of netting or a plastic sandwich bag. This will help avoid young children or pets from eating the leaves and berries that drop to the ground. See photo called Mistletoe.

Poinsettia: Contrary to earlier beliefs, poinsettias are safe in the home during the holidays. Eating many leaves may cause mild stomach upset. The sap from the plant may cause skin rash and should be washed off with soap and water. See photo called Poinsettia.

If you suspect a plant ingestion, call your local Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. Do not make someone vomit unless instructed by the Poison Control Center.

Decorations and Gifts

  • Christmas Trees (Cedar): Eating the bark can cause a stomach-ache. The sap may cause an itchy skin rash.
  • Christmas Trees (Pine, Spruce & Fir): The needles can cause choking, but are non-toxic.
  • Be sure Christmas trees are secure in their stands. Hang breakable ornaments high on tree branches. If a child swallows a piece of an ornament, it could cause choking and/or blockage in the intestines. Heirloom and/or older ornaments may contain lead.
  • Angel hair: Angel hair is finely spun glass, which can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and the throat if swallowed.
  • Snow scene globes: Snow scenes are plastic globes filled with water or glycerin. When shaken, snow appears to fall upon a Christmas or Chanukkah scene. The “snow” is calcium carbonate, which is non-toxic. Sometimes the water may be contaminated with bacteria and food poisoning may result.
  • Candles: Candles consist of wax and synthetic materials, which are non-toxic. Be sure candles are out of children’s reach. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other plants or trees.  Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not fall.  Most importantly, be sure to blow them out before going to bed.
  • Fireplace Color Crystals: These color crystals are attractive to children and can look like candy. They contain powders of heavy metal salts such as copper, arsenic and antimony. If swallowed, they can be very irritating to the mouth, throat and stomach.  If large amounts are swallowed, it may result in heavy metal poisoning.
  • Lamp oil: Keep all oil lamps out of children’s reach since oils come in a variety of soft-drink colors. If swallowed, lamp oil is drawn into the lungs from coughing, which can lead to pneumonia. Even lamp oil that is spilled can be aspirated.
  • Bubble Lights: Bubble lights contain a small amount of methylene chloride, which is also found in paint removers. Nibbling on an intact light or one “opened” light may cause mild skin or mouth irritation only.
  • Icicles or tinsel: These may cause choking or obstruction, especially in cats or small dogs. Since they may contain lead and tin, they may be toxic with repeated ingestion.
  • Snow Sprays: Many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride. This solvent can be harmful when inhaled. Briefly inhaling the spray in a small, poorly ventilated room may result in nausea, lightheadedness and headache.  Be sure to have the room well ventilated when you spray. Once dry, the snow particles are non-toxic.
  • Disc Batteries: These flat-shaped, coin-like batteries are commonly used in watches, cameras, hearing aids, games and calculators. They may, if swallowed, stick in the throat or stomach, causing serious burns as the chemical leaks out.

Holiday Food Safety

  • Wash your hands before, during and after food preparation. Use soap and warm water and wash for 20 seconds. Washing is the most important thing you can do to prevent food poisoning.
  • Use hot, soapy water to wash cutting boards, utensils and anything else that was used to prepare food.
  • Do not use a sponge or dishcloth to clean surfaces that have touched raw meat, fish or poultry. Use soap, water and a disposable paper towel.
  • After handling raw meat, fish or poultry, do not reuse the same utensil or plate. Bacteria from the raw juices will contaminate other food.
  • After shopping, get frozen food items refrigerated as soon as possible. If thawed, use immediately. Do not refreeze.
  • Defrost meats and poultry in the refrigerator or the microwave.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Cook all food thoroughly by strictly following cooking instructions.
  • Taste food only when it is thoroughly cooked. Use a clean spoon each time.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If food is allowed to remain at room temperature for two hours or longer, bacteria can multiply and cause food poisoning.
  • Refrigerate all leftovers soon after meals. Stuffing should be removed from the turkey before you put it in the refrigerator.
  • Hot food does not have to be cooled off before you put it in the refrigerator.
  • Leftover turkey can be safely refrigerated for 3-5 days, but gravy and stuffing should be eaten in 1 or 2 days.

Other important tips:

  • Keep all tobacco out of reach of children and empty ashtrays promptly. Consuming tobacco products in small amounts can cause nausea and vomiting and even seizures in young children.
  • Remember that ethanol is the main ingredient (often 50 percent or more) in cologne, perfume, aftershave and mouth wash. These items, packaged in colorful bottles, can be appealing to children. Just two ounces of perfume can cause severe poisoning in a young child.
  • Offer guests a locked cabinet in which to store their medicine, so children can’t access it.
  • When traveling with children, check your new surroundings carefully and move pills, vitamins, medicines, cosmetics and cleaning products out of their reach.
  • When attending holiday gatherings, be sure to inform your hosts about your children’s food allergies.