Two stories appeared in the news recently, each describing accidental poisonings with chemical cleaners that occurred in restaurants. It’s important to note that cleaning chemicals such as the ones described in these stories can also be found in the home. These incidents can serve as examples of injuries that can happen when poison prevention practices are not followed.
Case 1: On July 5th 2014, an employee at a Utah restaurant licked her finger after dipping it into what she believed to be a sugar container. In reality it contained lye, a chemical degreaser. This employee experienced bleeding and blisters on her tongue.
Fast forward to August 10th, another employee at the same establishment mistook the lye for sugar and served it in a customer’s iced tea. The woman who drank the tea suffered throat and mouth burns and was taken to the hospital for treatment in critical condition where a breathing tube had to be placed. Fortunately, she is recovering.
Case 2: On August 21st 2014, a 7 year old boy was served an ice cream milkshake in a Colorado ice cream restaurant that had been accidentally contaminated with floor cleaner. An employee had mistaken the cleaner container in the sink for a clean bottle used for vanilla syrup. The boy who drank the shake experienced a burning sensation on his tongue. He then gave it to his mother who tasted it and noticed the same burning feeling. Two other customers received similarly contaminated ice cream and everyone was taken to the hospital for treatment of burns.
A couple things went wrong in these events. First, the chemical cleaners were not kept in their original labeled containers. The lye was put into the sugar jar and the vanilla syrup was placed in a contaminated vanilla bottle. The vanilla bottle had been improperly filled with floor cleaner and degreaser and left in the sink. These mix-ups led to confusion and a case of mistaken identity.
So how often do problems or mistakes like this occur? More often than you think. In 2012, 125,035 human poisonings reported to U.S. Poison Centers (5.5% of all exposures) were coded as “unintentional misuse” which is defined as improper or incorrect use of the product.
Second, in both instances someone tasted a substance that was “off.” The employee wanted to see if the sugar was tainted by tasting it, and the mother tasted her son’s milkshake after he complained that it burned. As children we’re told not to put strange things in our mouth, and that is still the smart choice as adults.
Here are a couple of take home lessons:
- Keep all potentially harmful substances, including cleaning products, in their original labelled containers and store them away from where food and beverages are kept.
- Never taste any unknown substance or eat or drink anything from an unlabeled, unidentifiable container.
Caustic chemicals such as acids or bases are among the most dangerous chemicals in the home and work environment. Heavy duty cleaners and degreasers often contain lye, which can be potentially harmful even at small doses. In 2012, there were 24,575 cases of human exposure to caustic cleaners (alkali or acidic) reported to U.S. Poison Centers. Check out this blog post for more information about caustic and corrosive home cleaners: “So, What’s The Most Dangerous Poison Around The House?”
Unfortunately, injuries from these two cases might have been prevented with precautionary actions. They serve as a reminder that the potential for poisoning is real and poison prevention education is not just rhetoric. The Illinois Poison Center is always here to help you. We’re available 24/7 and can be reached anytime at 1-800-222-1222. Save the number to your cell phone, and some day it just might save you back!