Nov 16, 2015: What happens at the Tennessee Poison Center on Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving Wishes

Over the river and throughout the state,

What hazards will intoxicate?

Thanksgiving draws near.

Our hope for this year?

“No poisonings happen here!”


Over the river and throughout the state,

What should we anticipate?

To be toxin free,

Here in Tennessee,

Is the wish of the TPC!!


Thanksgiving – a holiday filled with family, friends, football, and feasting.  Unfortunately, it is also a day of hidden hazards.  To the sorrow of the Tennessee Poison Control Center (TPC) staff, Thanksgiving is NOT a poison-free holiday.  Based on the analysis of data for the past ten years, the TPC should anticipate receiving approximately 135 – 145 poison exposure calls and 5 – 10 information calls this year.  Although these numbers are about 20% less than the TPC’s normal daily call-volume average, they signify the number of people who will have their holiday interrupted by poisoning threats.


Most of the poison information calls will focus on food handling practices and food poisoning risks.  Though turkey may symbolize the Thanksgiving feast, it becomes a source of Salmonella and Listeria food poisoning when not properly thawed, cooked, and stored.  While many enjoy deep-fried turkeys, burns from hot oil are not pleasant, and individuals will call for appropriate burn care management (medical information) because their primary doctor’s office is closed.  In addition, those who forget to remove plastic wrap coverings when they place a dish in the oven will call with questions as to the safety of eating plastic-coated food.  At the TPC, the health of our clients is our primary focus; therefore, we uphold the adage: “If in doubt, throw it out.”


A gathering of friends and family brings not only the sense of connection, but multiple distractions as well.  On Thanksgiving Day, the number of child-related accidents, particularly poisonings, rise.  Greater than 70% of TPC’s Thanksgiving Day poison exposure calls will involve children under six years of age who attain access to common household products because adults are preoccupied and supervision becomes lax.  Generally, these items will include: cleaning substances, cosmetics, deodorizers, topical preparations, and household plants.  While most products pose little risk of harm in just a taste or a sip, others can be highly toxic in less than one mouthful.  Furthermore, guests weaken child-proofing systems, because they often store their medications in purses and suitcases.  Inquisitive children readily find and eat these medications.  Analgesic, homeopathic, cough/cold, and cardiovascular drugs denote the classes of medications most frequently ingested.  In addition, distractions lead to therapeutic errors.  Approximately 15% of TPC’s Thanksgiving Day poison calls will pertain to medication errors stemming from incorrect doses, double doses, or wrong dosing routes.


Another Thanksgiving Day concern encompasses the use and abuse of alcohol (ethanol).  Individuals will call to ask about possible interactions between their medications and the wine or beer they consumed.  Others will call to obtain advice regarding the treatment of friends or relatives, who have “alcohol poisoning”.  Sadly, drunk-driving deaths spike around the Thanksgiving holiday.


Regrettably, mental illness does not take a holiday.  In fact, most individuals, who suffer with mental illnesses, state that the holidays make their symptoms worse.  The TPC can expect to receive around fifteen calls (about 10% of the day’s call-volume) from healthcare facilities requesting recommendations for the treatment of their suicidal patients with intentional overdoses.  Many of these cases will involve antidepressant, cardiovascular, muscle relaxant, and/or narcotic medications.


This Thanksgiving, the TPC will continue to assist the citizens of Tennessee with their poisoning questions and emergencies.  Though the TPC staff may hope for a toxin-free day, we know that this very idea is infeasible, wishful thinking.  We will be here Thanksgiving Day, ready to answer all calls



Seasonal Safety: Child Safety on Thanksgiving Day from the Child Safety and Abuse Prevention Programs, Sponsored by Global Children’s Fund

Thanksgiving Dangers from the Road to the Table by Kimberly Leonard in US News and World Report

Toxicall from Computer Automated Systems


This question prepared by:  Cheri Wessels, BSN, MBA, CSPI   Tennessee Poison Center


I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at


Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center

Poison Help Hotline: 1-80-222-1222