Upstate Poison Center experts offer tips to stay safe during the holidays

The season of holiday giving and decorating has begun, and the Upstate New York Poison Center is offering Central New Yorkers tips to stay safe while engaging in the joys of the season.

“There are so many elements of the season that make it special-and hectic– gift giving, decorating and socializing with friends and loved ones, ” said Gail Banach, director of Public Education and Communications for the poison center. “But, it is most important to remain safe by avoiding hazards that could prove deadly.”

The Poison Center’s holiday hazard list includes:

Handwashing photo courtesy of

Handwashing photo courtesy of

Food Safety: Refrigerate or heat leftovers within two hours of preparation. Leaving food out too long is one of the most common mistakes of holiday food safety. The rule of thumb is to rotate every two hours, keeping the cold foods cold and the hot foods hot.

And, wash your hands thoroughly and often — before, during, and after food preparation.  Simply washing hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe. Remember to wash any platter after using it for raw poultry to prevent contaminating the poultry once it is cooked.

• Button batteries. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports 3,500 button battery ingestion cases every year in the United States, many involving children. Button batteries can become lodged in the esophagus and digestive tract. If ingested, button batteries can actually give off an electrical charge causing internal tissue burning.

Decongestant medications, courtesy of

Decongestant medications, courtesy of

• Medications. The holiday season coincides with the cold and flu season. Medications (over-the-counter and prescription) often resemble candy. As an example, small red decongestant pills look like edible red hot candies used for holiday food decorations.

• Alcoholic beverages. Alcohol-based drinks, such as punch or fruit drink mixed with vodka or rum can often be mistaken for juice by a child, especially it the drink has a sweet smell.

• Lamp oil and incense/reed diffusers. To a child, these liquids can look like a drink, as they are often made to smell like food products, such as vanilla, gingerbread or cinnamon.

• Bubble lights. These holiday lights can contain methylene chloride or alcohol, which if ingested can be harmful. Vintage ornaments can contain lead or other heavy metals and are also harmful if swallowed.

• Super glue. A bottle of super glue used for holiday crafts can, and is, often mistaken for eye drops.

• Snow sprays. Although the substance that creates faux snow is non-toxic, the propellant used to express the product from the container is toxic and harmful if inhaled.

• Poinsettia. While this holiday favorite is considered non-toxic, the white milky liquid from the stem can cause minor skin irritation.

• Holly. Holly berries are toxic and ingestion of 20 berries could be fatal to a young child.

Jerusalem Cherry, courtesy of

Jerusalem Cherry, courtesy of

• Jerusalem Cherry. All parts of this plant are toxic and can be harmful if swallowed.

• Mistletoe. Sometimes called the kiss of death, mistletoe leaves, stem and berries are all toxic. Often manufacturers add plastic berries to leaves, which could act as a choking hazard.

“We strongly recommend that all the toxic items included on our list be kept out of the reach of children at all times,” said Banach, “and we encourage people to program the Poison Center Helpline (1-800-222-1222) into their cellphones just in case.”  Poison information specialists are available for calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Banach says that it is easier to dial the 800 number and talk to a poison specialist than it is to go to the computer and google an answer. Besides, as Mark Twain once said, “Be careful of reading health books, as you might die of a misprint.”

The Upstate New York Poison Center, which handles more than 85,000 calls annually, is affiliated with Upstate Medical University and is a regionally accredited center of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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