Adults  |  Poison safety and prevention

Poisoned at the Office?

The Bottom Line

The most frequent calls from offices to Poison Control are about drinking coffee pot cleaner instead of coffee, eating left-over food from an office party or the office refrigerator, and breathing in fumes from the photocopier.

The Full Story

Poisonings at the office usually can be prevented.

The most frequent calls from offices to Poison Control are about drinking coffee pot cleaner instead of coffee, eating left-over food from an office party or the office refrigerator, and breathing in fumes from the photocopier.

Coffee pot cleaner can be left in the pot mistakenly instead of being drained and rinsed out. When the next person takes a drink, the taste is immediately different, of course! Quickly after that clue, the person might feel some mouth or throat irritation. Most of the time, a drink of water will make that feeling will go away on its own. More serious problems – burning in the mouth or throat - are possible but not common. Some types of coffee pot cleaner can be very irritating in their original form; once they are diluted in the coffee pot, serious problems are unlikely.

The rules for avoiding food poisoning are the same at office parties as they are at home: wash hands well before handling food; keep hot foods hot; keep cold foods cold; put left-over food back in the refrigerator within two hours.

If you bring your lunch to work, use a cold pack or store your lunch in the refrigerator.  Wrap it well so it doesn't drip or leak. And be sure to eat your refrigerated lunch food in a day or so. There are reasons why many offices clear out the fridge each Friday! Old food = spoiled food = unpleasant odors for everyone, plus possible food poisoning.

Printers and photocopiers can emit ozone and other chemical fumes. These can cause headaches, eye irritation or chest tightness in some people. If this happens, get to fresh air. The filter on the equipment may need to be checked. Handle ink and toner cartridges for printers and photocopiers carefully. Spilling these materials on your skin usually won't cause problems (other than stains), but they can cause a rash in some people. If these materials get on your skin, wash them off with plenty of water and soap right away.

And, at home and at work, it's important to follow directions for any chemical product that you might use.

If you have questions about any kind of poison exposure at work, call 1-800-222-1222 right away. Poison specialists are there 24-hours a day to provide answers and treatment advice.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

Poisoned?

CALL 1-800-222-1222