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Hazardous Look-A-Likes in a Child’s World

Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S., Northwest Regional Director, University of Missouri Extension

Updated by Gail Carlson, MU Health Education Specialist - 3/7/03

Updated by Greta Hopke, RD and Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, Associate State Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri Extension - 3/8/05

Young children are known to be very curious and active. Can you think of the last time you were with a kid and you turned your back or went into another room to return in just 2 minutes to find the child was somewhere else! Young children love to imitate, explore, and try new things. While this is a great way for them to learn, this curious instinct can be very dangerous in the wrong situation.

"Children Act Fast…So do Poisons!" is the theme of National Poison Prevention Week, March 20 to 26. This is a special week designated to increase awareness of the dangers of accidental poisoning. According to the Poison Prevention Week Council, approximately 1 million phone calls are placed each year to the Poison Control Centers by adults seeking help when a child has swallowed or come into contact with a harmful substance. About 30 of the children who ingest such substances die each year.

Kids connect color, shapes, texture, and flavors with foods. Whether it is medicine or scented crayons or markers, it can be difficult for them to separate safe from unsafe when it smells like food. Take a look in your cleaning supplies for "food scented" items. No, they are not to eat, but are pleasant to smell and very similar to the smell of some foods.

There are numerous poison look-a-likes in our homes. If the label from the product were removed and put into containers, could you pick out what was safe and what was not? Just think about some of these poison look-a-likes:

  • Cinnamon red hots and cold medicine
  • Water and alcohol
  • Candy and antacid
  • Cake frosting in a tube and first aid cream
  • Vitamins and cake decorations
  • Dishwashing soap granules and NerdsŪ candy
  • Tuna and cat food
  • Jelly and sunscreen
  • Lettuce or spinach and some green house plants
  • Corn oil and dish soap

As you can see, this is a fairly common list of things we keep in our kitchens, bathrooms, and cleaning closets. Move to a garage, farm machine shed, or storage area and you'll likely discover other poison look-a-likes.

To poison proof, move containers out of sight to high shelves or closets, away from foods where they might be mistaken for a "safe" food. Medicines can be put into larger containers on a high shelf. If possible, keep these products in a locked cabinet. Also, keep items in their original containers with the label on. Children associate cups, bottles, or other containers with food and drink and it can be confusing to all of us if they are not in the original container!

When taking medicine or nutritional supplements it is important to follow the directions presented on the label. Never refer to medicine or supplements as "candy."

When using a cleaning product, always follow the directions on the label and keep the child and product in your sight. When reading the label, look for these key words:

CAUTION or WARNING, this indicates a mild hazard. In event of accidental exposure, if appropriate first aid is given, the product will not likely cause permanent damage. Most detergents, disinfectants, and all-purpose cleaners fit into this category.

DANGER indicates that a greater precaution should be taken. In the event of accidental exposure, this product could cause long-term damage. Products with this keyword typically are intended for tough jobs, such as oven cleaners, drain openers, or products which are flammable.

POISON is the strongest indication of hazard. In the event of accidental exposure, this product could cause severe medical damages. This term rarely appears on household cleaning products, but may be found on car care products and anti-freeze.

When we think of kids and poison, we often imagine the child swallowing the item, however, smelling or touching a substance can also be harmful. In case of a poison accident, keep the Poison Control Center number posted in the phonebook or on the refrigerator. The number, 1-(800) 222-1222, provides everyone in the U.S. with free access - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to their regional poison center. When calling the Poison Control Center, be sure to have the following information: the child's age and weight, any health or medical conditions, the substance involved, whether they smelled, swallowed, or touched the product, if any first aid has been given, and if the child has vomited.

To keep "quick" and curious kids safe, become a kid again. Get down on your hands and knees. What can you find or get into? Are there things that need to be moved? If so, do it now and keep the kids safe.




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Last Updated 05/05/2009