It’s almost Thanksgiving, so this week’s blog will focus on what’s really important this time of year: Food! We’ve already written about food poisoning, so this time let’s talk about poisoned food. If you’ve read or heard any of the IPC’s poison prevention tips, then you know some of the most important ones are:
- Do not store cleaning products or chemicals near food
- Keep chemicals, cleaners and other products in their original containers
Failure to heed this sage advice has resulted in some very unpleasant mealtimes for some of our callers over the years. Below are all true stories of cases the IPC has managed regarding accidentally poisoned food. Read these, and then do a once-over of your pantry to make sure you don’t have an accidental poisoning waiting to happen.
- At least once a year, the IPC gets a call about a family who was inadvertently “served” Pine Sol® the exact same way: mom is making brownies using a boxed mix and reaches under the sink for the big bottle of vegetable oil that won’t fit in the cupboard with the rest of the baking items. She grabs the bottle, measures out the requisite half cup and finishes baking. It’s only after everyone has had a taste that mom realizes she used Pine Sol® instead of vegetable oil because the bottles look so similar.
- A young child was on methylphenidate (Ritalin®) for ADHD, but was unable swallow the pill whole. To solve this problem, mom would bake cookies and push a tablet into the cookie to disguise it. She prepared a whole batch of cookies in this manner and gave one cookie to the child every morning. One day, Grandma came over to babysit, found a container of freshly baked cookies (not knowing they contain medication) and innocently passed them out to the kids in the neighborhood who came over to play.
- A woman mixed rat poison into the jar of peanut butter, and then spread some on crackers to place around the house. She had the crackers spread out on the counter, and took a few to place in other parts of the house. Meanwhile, her 13 year old grandson came into the kitchen, thought the snack was made for him and ate several of the poisoned crackers.
- A caller was visiting a new neighbor’s house and drank part of a juice drink that he got from the neighbor’s refrigerator. After drinking some, he noticed there were 2 coffee filters in it. He was then told by someone at the residence that the coffee filters were used in the making of crystal meth and they were in the juice to give it an extra “kick”.
- A man was making German potato salad for dinner for his family. Shortly after serving the salad, the family complained of a ‘weird’ taste. Turns out that dad had absentmindedly grabbed a bottle of wheel cleaner instead of the vinegar that was stored nearby, because the bottles looked so similar. Some brands of wheel cleaner contain a super toxic substance called ammonium bifluoride, and this entire family had to go to the ER.
- An elderly gentleman ingested a shot glass full of Lorsban®, (a pesticide similar to nerve gas) because it was being stored in a whiskey bottle.
- A caller was eating from a large bag of sunflower seeds. When he got to the bottom of the bag, he noticed a dead mouse among the last few seeds.
- A man came downstairs after sleeping in on a Sunday morning and made some coffee. He knew something was wrong after his first swig: his wife had put CLR® in the coffee maker’s water reservoir to clean it and had left it in there to soak while she went to church.
Accidentally poisoned food is scary enough but cases of intentional, malicious poisoning of food are downright terrifying.
- Antifreeze, which contains the toxic substance ethylene glycol, has been implicated in several cases of successful homicide. Because antifreeze has a sweet taste, it can be masked in sweet beverages.
- There is also a famous 1988 case of a man in Florida who poisoned his noisy neighbors’ soda with thallium, a toxic heavy metal. The perpetrator was a chemist and member of MENSA.
- Other substances implicated in attempted or successful homicide by poisoned food in the past 20 years include arsenic, rat poison, selenium, cyanide, cocaine, aniline, strychnine, and a myriad of medications (opioids and anticonvulsants are especially popular).
Harming someone via poison really shows some true evil: it’s pre-meditated (many times requiring repeated doses), super sneaky and very personal. A 2009 article in the International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology reported that a whopping 60% of the 35 studied female serial killers used poison or drugs as their method of murder. Not sure how many of these involved putting the poison in the victim’s food, but still.
Always call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 if you believe that you or someone you know has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance. And this Thursday, if you are unfortunate enough to be eating Thanksgiving dinner cooked by a less than talented chef, remember it could be worse!