Labeling Leftovers: Holiday Punch

Many families have special recipes they share when they come together during the holiday season. Sometimes, the menu includes a festive beverage for the adult members of the family to enjoy.

While a responsible adult can be relied upon to keep a close eye on children during the party itself, the aftermath presents a more complex challenge. Clean-up isn’t always immediate. There are often so many leftovers that households run out of the usual containers before everything can be put away. In these instances, leftovers may be left out or stored hastily in repurposed containers. In addition, holiday punches often resemble nonalcoholic fruit juices. These circumstances lead to accidental ingestion of leftover alcoholic beverages by children and potentially serious alcohol toxicity.

Poison centers receive calls about such ingestions every holiday season, and they often result in emergency room visits and extended hospitalizations.

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Which is water and which is alcohol? (photo by SW Sondheimer)

The best way to prevent this type of exposure is to make certain all cups, punch bowls, pitchers, or other containers with residual alcohol are emptied down a drain and rinsed. In addition, the original bottles should be recapped and placed out of reach before adults go to bed. This will ensure that if children get up earlier and are able to access other parts of the house unattended, they won’t have access to alcohol. It will also make clear what the contents of the remaining containers are and that they are not appropriate for children.

If you do decide to keep leftover punch, or another beverage that is no longer in the original container, it’s important to place the leftovers in a clearly labeled container. Using unlabeled, or ambiguously labeled, juice or soda containers runs the risk of the contents being mistaken for a child appropriate beverage and, by the time the error is realized, the child is already intoxicated.

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Which is juice and which is punch? (photo by SW Sondheimer)

Children may experience toxicity after less than an ounce of alcohol, depending on the type and percentage. Signs of intoxication are the same as they would be in an adult and may result in secondary injury from aspiration of vomit (vomit going into the lungs because child is also drowsy or due to choking) or falls from increasing unsteadiness. Larger amounts may result in serious symptoms such as: fast or low heart rate, low body temperature, slow breathing, or difficulty breathing. Once a child has symptoms, there is no home treatment — that child must be taken to the emergency room and kept under observation until they no longer have symptoms. The child may even need to be admitted to the hospital for continued observation and/or treatment.

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. Utilizing simple prevention techniques goes a long way toward making sure this festive time of year is as safe, and as much fun, as possible.

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So which one is in here? (photo by SW Sondheimer)

Your local poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to answer any questions you might have concerning this, or any other, exposure. To be routed to your regional poison center, call 1-800-222-1222.


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