It's the most wonderful time of the year but it can quickly turn tragic with unintentional poisoning.

Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said one product people need to be aware of around the home during the holidays is medication, whether it's over-the-counter or prescription.

He said many people are visiting each other this time of year, staying at relatives' homes. So he said visitors need to make sure they lock away their medicine, especially if they are visiting homes that have little children and pets.

Cleaning dangers

Cleaning products are also hazardous. Ruck said everybody is cleaning and sanitizing their homes this time of year, preparing for guests, holiday parties and holiday dinners. Ruck said don't mix bleach and ammonia or other chemicals, which can create toxic fumes and vapors. Be sure to keep cleaning products up high and out of reach of children and animals.

Food poisoning

When preparing a holiday meal, Ruck said do not run raw meat under water in the sink. The water that is coming off the meat can splash onto the counter, bathing that surface in germs that can make people sick. Be sure to really clean the sink and counter very thoroughly and carefully.

Watch your pets

Holiday time can also mean unintentional poisonings to pets. Ruck stressed it's critical to keep chocolate and alcohol away from dogs, cats and other animals, even though they like the taste.

Especially when the party is ending, Ruck said many people may leave without throwing out their garbage. Chocolate morsels left on plates are very inviting to pets and dangerous.

Dogs can also be notorious for knocking over glasses and paper cups with booze in it, and lap it up. Ruck said as tired as the host may be, be sure to take a few minutes and really clean up cups and plates before going to bed. Both alcohol and and booze can be deadly for pets.

Also be sure to keep products containing xylitol out of sight and reach of pets. These can include sucking candies and sugarless gum.

Pass-out drunk

If a person has one too many drinks, Ruck said the worst thing to do is "sleep it off." Know the critical signs of alcohol poisoning. It may appear somebody is passed out and sleeping after drinking but he said they may actually be so intoxicated that they've stopped breathing. That person may also unknowingly vomited and choked on their own vomit. So it's very important not to just put someone to bed. That person should be taken to an emergency room for treatment.

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Ruck said not to take any chances this holiday season. The NJ Poison Control Center's hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222. A healthcare professional is always on standby.

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