Poison Safety at the Holidays

Each year, poison centers across the U.S. see an increase in poison exposures during the holiday season. Relatives and friends are visiting and parties are abundant. It’s easy to get distracted, even for a few minutes.

If you suspect a poisoning of any kind has occurred, call your poison center right away at (800) 222-1222. The Banner Poison & Drug Information Center is staffed with experienced, certified health care providers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays.

The following are some tips on how to have a safe and healthy holiday season.

Food Poisoning

Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F - the temperature range where food borne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the "danger zone."

Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.

More food safety tips


Lock up medicines, especially when families visit. Many adult medicines can poison children, even if they swallow only one or two pills. Remind family members who might be visiting that a child is curious and may look into purses and bags or reach for medications on the counter.

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Poisonous Plants

Pines, Spruces, Balsam and Firs

Ingestion of small amounts may result in varying degrees of localized irritation and gastrointestinal upset. A primary concern would be aspiration or airway obstruction. Pinecones are not toxic, although contact dermatitis may result from handling.

  • Poinsettia Plants (Christmas flower): Poinsettia plants were once thought to be very poisonous. Contrary to earlier beliefs, poinsettias are safe to have in the home during the holidays. Ingestion of a leaf or two has not resulted in significant symptoms. Poinsettia plants have a mild irritant, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The milky sap from the flower may cause skin irritation.
  • Holly, Mistletoe, Jerusalem Cherry and Bittersweet: These are all poisonous holiday plants and should not be placed where children can reach them. Watch for dried berries that may have fallen to the floor. Contact the Poison Center at (800) 222-1222 if ingestion of any amount occurs.
    • Holly: The stiff green leaves and bright red berries are extremely attractive to children. Holly berries are significantly poisonous. Ingestion of 20 berries can result in a child's death.
    • Mistletoe: The berries, leaves and stem are all considered toxic. 
    • Jerusalem Cherry: This plant contains bright orange to scarlet-colored berries. The entire plant is toxic.
    • Bittersweet: All parts of this plant are considered toxic. The unripe berries contain the highest concentration of Solanine, a poisonous ingredient, which causes heart rate to dip below 60, sedation and headaches.


Every year around the Fourth of July holiday, people are burned or injured by fireworks. Fireworks are a poisoning hazard, as well.

Fireworks often come in pretty, colorful packages that can look like candy to a child. If swallowed by children, adults or pets, the chemicals in fireworks can make them sick, so it's important to keep fireworks out of the reach of children and animals.

If you are concerned that someone may have eaten or swallowed fireworks, call the poison center at (800) 222-1222 right away. The poison center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - even holidays.


With new toys come batteries. Button batteries are flat-shaped, coin-like batteries which are commonly used in watches, cameras, hearing aids, games and calculators, and are attractive to children and easy to swallow. If swallowed, they can get lodged in the esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach), and this is a medical emergency. Store batteries as safely as you do medicines and household products.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Appoint one person to watch the children during an event, and then clean up all alcoholic beverages and ashtrays immediately after the guests leave. Cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco contain enough nicotine to be dangerous to children, who are known to eat whole cigarettes and drink from spittoons. Children can become intoxicated by a very small amount of alcohol. It can also cause a child's blood sugar to fall to dangerous levels.