Now that schools have closed and summer vacations have begun, there are some practical tips that everyone can follow to ensure a safe summer in the great outdoors. People who plan to go camping or picnicking or just spend time in their backyards this summer should be aware of some of the most common summertime poison hazards — plants, food poisoning, and insect bites and stings — and how they can protect themselves and others from a poisoning exposure.
Each year, the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) handles thousands of poisoning cases. Some of the most commonly reported summertime dangers include plants, food poisoning, and insect bites and stings.
Plants: The IPC recommends that you wear clothing that will cover as much exposed skin as possible to protect yourself from plant poisonings such as poison ivy, poison oak and stinging nettles. Parents should teach their children never to put mushrooms, berries or any part of a plant in their mouths and never assume a plant is non-toxic because birds or wildlife eat it. Since it is often difficult to know what is or is not potentially poisonous, the safest recommendation is to stay away from plants that are unknown to you. A free list of toxic plants can be obtained by calling the IPC at 1-800-222-1222 (select option 2). If you suspect a plant poisoning, remove contaminated clothing, gently wash the affected skin with soap and cool water, and call the poison center immediately.
Food preparation, storage and cooking: Many people take advantage of warm weather to hold barbecues, have a picnic in the park or venture off into the wilderness for a camping trip. Follow these safety tips on how you can prepare, cook and properly store foods, and keep harmful bacteria from making you and your family sick:
- Pack hot foods in insulated containers so they stay hot.
- Pack refrigerated foods just before leaving home. Use well-insulated coolers that allow space for ice packs.
- If grilling, pack additional clean plates to avoid cross-contamination of raw and cooked foods.
- Never leave a cooler in the trunk or car; place it in a shaded area and cover it with a blanket.
- Cook foods as close to serving time as possible to limit bacterial growth.
- Refrigerate food within two hours after cooking.
Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, which grows in certain foods such as gravy and cream sauces, when they are not handled, cooked or stored properly. A simple rule to follow that will help keep your family safe from food poisoning is to keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
Symptoms of the most common types of food poisoning may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever. One or more of these symptoms usually develop within a few hours to a few days after eating the contaminated food. Even if you only suspect you might have food poisoning, you should still call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice. The nationwide, toll-free poison center number, 1-800-222-1222, automatically connects callers with their designated local poison center, from anywhere in the U.S. All calls placed in Illinois will be routed to the IPC.
Bites and stings: Never underestimate the power of an irritating insect bite or sting. Most people who are stung by an insect will experience redness, itching, swelling and some pain around the sting site. In some cases, stings can be poisonous, cause allergic reactions or carry diseases; in extreme cases, they can cause death. If you have a worrisome or unusual insect bite or sting, you should report it to the IPC immediately.
If you are stung by a bee or wasp, and a stinger is present, you should remove it by scraping a credit card across the wound. Do not touch or squeeze the stinger because this will force poisonous venom into the skin.
Wear clothing that will cover as much exposed skin as possible to protect yourself from insect bites and stings when outdoors. While insect repellents and pesticides can protect you from pests such as bees, wasps, mosquitoes and ants, these products also can be a source of poisoning if used improperly. The IPC handles more than 1,200 poisoning cases every year that involved insecticides and pesticides.
The IPC advises people to follow the label directions carefully and wash your hands after using insect repellents and pesticides, to avoid getting them into the eyes or mouth. If you are accidentally exposed to a large amount of insect repellent or pesticide, wash the skin or flush the eyes with water and contact the IPC immediately.