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Surprises…and Cautions…in the Kitchen

Is it true that….

Enough vanilla extract can make you drunk?

Poppy seeds contain opium?

A lot of nutmeg is like a little PCP?

Oil of wintergreen can cause an aspirin overdose?

All of these statements are true, though none of these foods and flavorings is dangerous to use as recommended. With holiday baking season upon us, it’s time to review some kitchen poison safety tips.

Vanilla extract contains ethanol, the same type of alcohol found in beer, wine, and hard liquor (and other types of flavoring extract, perfume, cologne, aftershave, and mouthwash, too). The amount of extract called for in recipes would not be dangerous. But a child who swallowed the contents of a bottle might be at risk of alcohol poisoning. Keep flavoring extracts out of reach, along with other alcohol-containing liquids.

The poppy seeds we bake with or eat on bagels could, in fact, cause a positive drug screen for opiates.  When people eat poppy seeds, a drug test could be positive for morphine or codeine, which are metabolites (break-down products) of heroin. BUT – this generally happens only if people eat a lot of poppy seeds – more than one poppy seed bagel, for example, a short time before the test. Drinking poppy seed tea has actually caused poisoning and is NOT recommended!


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Nutmeg tastes great in cookies and eggnog, but too much can cause hallucinations. Children who get into the container, and people who deliberately swallow a lot of nutmeg trying to get high, can become miserably sick. Nausea, vomiting, agitation, prolonged drowsiness, and coma are all possible. Keep the nutmeg, and its relative, mace, out of the reach of children.

Oil of wintergreen is another name for methyl salicylate, a relative of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Small amounts are safe to use as flavoring agents, but the bottle MUST be locked up, where children can’t get to it. Small amounts of oil of wintergreen, like small amounts of aspirin, can poison children. Because oil of wintergreen is rapidly absorbed, children can become dangerously ill very quickly.

It’s important to keep safety in mind even when using ordinary kitchen ingredients. Use only recommended amounts in recipes. Lock up ingredients that might be harmful if children swallow too much. And, as always, call the Poison Center right away if you suspect that someone has swallowed too much of anything. Even though you’re baking or partying, the experts at the Poison Center are there to answer your phone call and help you through any poison emergency. Call 1-800-222-1222 – 24 hours a day, every day of the year.  

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