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Preventing Accidental Poisoning

by Audrey T. Hingley

"In general, if a consumer purchases ceramic ware in the U.S. marketplace today, it meets the new action levels," says Julia Hewgley, public affairs specialist with FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "But if you travel abroad and buy ceramic ware, be aware that each country has its own safety regulations. Safety can be terribly variable depending on the type of quality control and whether the piece is made by a hobbyist." To guard against poisonings, Hewgley advises that ceramic ware not be used to store foods. Acidic foods--such as orange, tomato and other fruit juices, tomato sauces, vinegar, and wine--stored in improperly glazed containers are potentially the most dangerous. Frequently used products, like cups or pitchers, are also potentially dangerous, especially when used to hold hot, acidic foods.

"Stop using any item if the glaze shows a dusty or chalky gray residue after washing. Limit your use of antique or collectible housewares for food and beverages," she says. "Buy one of the quick lead tests available at hardware stores and do a screening on inherited pieces."

Iron Poisoning

Iron-containing products remain the biggest problem by far when it comes to childhood poisoning. Between June 1992 and January 1993, five toddlers died after eating iron supplement tablets, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of Feb. 19, 1993. The incidents occurred in a variety of ways: Children ate tablets from uncapped or loosely capped bottles, swallowed tablets found spilled on the floor, and, in one case, a 2-year-old fed an 11-month-old sibling tablets from a box found on the floor.

Iron is always included in prenatal vitamins prescribed for pregnant women, and is often included in multivitamin formulas and children's supplements. Usually available without prescription, iron supplements can be found in grocery stores, drugstores, and health food stores in a wide variety of potencies, ranging from 18 milligrams (mg) to 150 mg per pill. For a small child, as little as 600 mg of iron can be fatal.

Because iron supplements are typically brightly colored, some people are concerned they may look like candy, and, therefore, are particularly attractive to children. In 1993, the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association (NDMA), which manufactures about 95 percent of nonprescription OTC medicines available to Americans today, adopted formulation provisions for iron products containing 30 mg or more of elemental iron per solid dosage form. These provisions also stipulated that such products would not be made with sweet coatings. That same year, NDMA manufacturers also independently agreed to develop new voluntary warning labels for these products. The voluntary labels read: "Warning: Close tightly and keep out of reach of children. Contains iron, which can be harmful or fatal to children in large doses. In case of accidental overdose, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately."

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