November 24, 2015

Tennessee Poison Center warns of Thanksgiving hazards

Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with family, friends, football and feasting. Unfortunately, it is also a day of hidden hazards. 

The staff at the Tennessee Poison Center (TPC), housed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, anticipates receiving about 135 to 145 poison exposure calls and five to 10 information calls this Thanksgiving season.

Cheri Wessels, clinical coordinator at the Tennessee Poison Center, said most of the calls will likely center around food handling practices and poisoning risks, particularly poisoning involving young children. Other topics typically resulting in calls include burns, medication errors, alcohol ingestions and overdoses.

Unfortunately, even turkey, the symbol of Thanksgiving, can be the source of salmonella and listeria food poisoning when not properly thawed, cooked and stored, she said.

TPC advises those preparing food to frequently wash their hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and cutting boards, especially after handling uncooked food and before touching other food. Washing produce, but not eggs, meat or poultry, is important to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.

Keep meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from all other foods, beginning at the store, and continuing in the refrigerator and while preparing the meal, Wessels said.

When cooking, use a food thermometer to check if meat is fully cooked and heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria, and cook the turkey until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The safest way to cook stuffing is outside of the turkey in a casserole dish. Stuffing cooked inside the turkey should be inserted right before cooking and cooked until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “danger zone,” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold, refrigerate leftovers promptly— within two hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to help reduce the risk of bacterial growth—and prevent cross contamination by completely and securely covering food in the refrigerator. Consume or freeze leftovers within three to four days.

“When in doubt, throw it out, is a general rule concerning food that has been left exposed or uncooked for too long,” Wessels said.

On Thanksgiving Day, the number of child-related accidents, particularly poisonings, rise.  More than 70 percent of TPC’s Thanksgiving Day poison exposure calls will involve children under 6 years old who have gotten access to common household products.

Generally, these items include: cleaning substances, cosmetics, deodorizers, topical preparations and household plants.  While most products pose little risk of harm in just a taste or a sip, others can be highly toxic in less than one mouthful. 

Parents should lock up harmful products and make sure children are supervised during the festivities.

 Potential alcohol intoxication of adult and children, burns from frying turkeys, and suicide attempts by overdosing on medication are also common calls the TPC receive during the holiday season.

“Thanksgiving is a time to rejoice with family, but should someone run into a crisis, we are here to answer those questions—minor or major,” Wessels said. “It’s better to call us and be sure than to be sorry.”

The Tennessee Poison Center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and can be contacted through their Helpline at 1-800-222-1222.