Medicine, household products and even food have the potential to make you sick if proper precautions are not used.
With National Poison Prevention Week taking place March 18-24, it’s a good time to pay attention to ways to keep your home safe.
“Most cases can be avoided with some preparation,’’ said Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center that serves 44 counties in Western Pennsylvania.
Prevention can be as simple as a few steps, such as putting away medicines and household products when you are finished with them. Wear protective clothing when using pesticides and other chemicals. And if you are warming a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it.
Dr. Surabhi Gaur, medical director of the emergency department at Uniontown Hospital, said the staff sees a lot of pediatric cases when it comes to accidental poisoning, more related to medicines than household products. It can involve grandparents taking medicine and not knowing a tablet fell on the floor. A child finds it.
“It’s not openly negligent. You’re in a rush and don’t realize you dropped something or you leave it on the counter,’’ said Gaur. “When you take your medicine, make sure that’s all you’re doing, not cooking breakfast or talking on the phone.’’
Lynch noted you should be aware of visiting relatives and friends whether they come to your home or if you visit theirs. If they are not used to having children around, they make not take precautions. It could be as simple as a child pulling something out of someone’s purse that’s within easy reach.
Children from toddlers to preschoolers are more likely to be involved in accidental poisonings so you want to make sure potential hazards are stored properly and away from little ones.
“Out of reach is your best bet,’’ said Gaur, explaining children will try to get into lower-level storage areas but that it takes a lot of planning to climb to higher levels.
Gaur said rooms where hazards are likely to occur include the garage, bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reminds the public these substances should be safely stored with child-resistant locks: medications and pharmaceuticals, including over-the-counter medicines; vitamins and supplements; tobacco and e-cigarette products; alcohol; laundry and cleaning supplies; pesticides and insect repellents; button batteries, such as those found in musical greeting cards; any type of oil or lubricant, including fragrance oils, tiki torch oils and engine oil; personal care products, especially contact lens disinfectants and hand sanitizers; and other chemicals.
Lynch said the poison center see cases that include nail polish remover or nail glue. Products to be wary of in the garage include automotive fluids, such as windshield washer fluid, coolant and anti-freeze. Gaur said most dangerous are toilet bowl cleaners or products that remove clogs from drain.
Gaur noted, however, “Most ingestions are small amounts because kids don’t like the taste.’’
Prevention also means talking to children and youths about safety.
Val Sesler, Penn State Extension master garden coordinator, said master gardeners visit 24 schools in Fayette County during February and March, talking to 1,255 first-grade students about poison prevention.
“It’s awareness about how to be safe around household chemicals,’’ said Sesler. “It’s the Mr. Yuk program. We give them stickers, information sheets to take home to their parents and a presentation to the kids.’’
Sesler noted, “The kids are very receptive to it, very attentive and they want to know how to be safe. We tell them to teach their younger brothers and sisters who don’t read not to touch anything with Mr. Yuk on it. There are four signal words. If you see a household product with any of these words, it should have a Mr. Yuk sticker on it: caution, warning, danger poison and danger.’’
Mr. Yuk, with his famous green face, was created in 1971 by the Pittsburgh Poison Center and is used to educate people about poison prevention. Mr. Yuk stickers are available through the Pittsburgh Poison Center, which is operated out of UPMC and available 24 hours a day at no charge.
Mr. Yuk stickers can be placed on medicines and household products, which is another reason to keep them in their original containers. Accidents can occur when products are transferred for ease to a cup or bottle that can be confused for something like a drink.
Lynch added keeping a product in its original container also allows health officials to more easily identify it.
When it comes to your home, many agencies and organizations share tips on their websites about how to keep safe in regards to poison prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control says:
Turn on a light when you take medicine at night so you know you are taking the correct amount of the right medicine. Dispose of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs.
Never mix household products together. For example, mixing bleach and ammonia can result in toxic gases.
Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products such as household cleaners.
Safe Kids Pennsylvania recommends having a carbon monoxide alarm on every level. Remember these are not substitutes for smoke alarms.
AAPCC advises these tips for safe food preparation and handling:
Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in your grocery bags, in the refrigerator, and while prepping.
Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards frequently, especially after handling or preparing uncooked food and before touching or eating other foods. Wash produce but not eggs, meat, or poultry, which can spread harmful bacteria.
Use the microwave, cold water, or the refrigerator method to defrost your frozen meat or poultry. Do not thaw or marinate these items on the counter, and be sure to cook them immediately after thawing.
Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the ‘Danger Zone,’ which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, it’s best to keep hot food hot, and cold food cold. Use a food thermometer to check if meat is fully cooked and heated high enough to kill harmful bacteria.
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to help reduce the risk of bacterial growth. Prevent cross-contamination by completely covering foods in the refrigerator. Consume or freeze leftovers within three-to-four days.