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Products that resemble foods and appeal to children Potential risks of accidental ingestion

5. What are current safety measures against poisonning?

    Blister packets can stop children swallowing whole bottles of medication.
    Blister packets can stop children swallowing whole bottles of medication.
    Credit: GreenFacts

    The most effective way of preventing accidental poisoning is to replace the toxic ingredient by one which is less harmful. Child-resistant packaging is another very useful prevention method, credited with reducing the number of deaths from unintentional poisoning by about 85% in 32 years in England and Wales. Using containers with shapes and labels that make them less attractive to children could be another way of preventing poisonings. However, written warnings are not effective and warning labels may even attract children.

    Children usually prefer sweet tastes so sometimes, bittering agents such as denatonium benzoate are added to cosmetics and cleaners to prevent accidental poisonings. Products spiked with even minute quantities of denatonium benzoate have an extremely unpleasant taste and would stop children drinking significant quantities of it. However, there is no evidence that this reduces the number of serious poisonings. In any case, severe poisoning is still possible when swallowing even small quantities of certain types of products, such as those containing high concentrations of acid or alkaline ingredients (e.g. former household dishwasher products and oven cleaners) or alcohols and glycols, such as anti-freeze and windscreen wash. The addition of bittering agents is also unsuitable for some products which are toxic when they are breathed in rather than ingested.

    Education campaigns on safety measures directed to parents and other people who take care of children, as well as cleaners are also effective and today serious cases of poisonings in children are very rare. There have been serious incidents and even deaths for elderly people who have drunk products containing surfactants, but the number of cases is also in decline. More...

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