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It happens every year, like clockwork. With Mother’s Day come plenty of colorful fresh-cut flowers, so that moms can display them on their kitchen or coffee tables. Attached to the stalks of those flowers by rubber band, there are little packets of flower food, and sometimes, the contents of those packets lead to accidental ingestion, and to concerned calls to our VelocityEHS Emergency Response Services (ERS) representatives.

In this first installment of our new “ERS Frontline Stories” series, we’ll talk about how these ingestion incidents happen, give you a feel for what our representatives hear on those calls, and discuss the takeaways about the benefits of better access to emergency response support.

Little Packets Bring Big Worries

Stevie Wonder once sang that he wished he “could come back as a flower,” so he “could spread the sweetness of love.” Many of us buy cut flowers from the supermarket, or order them for delivery from florists, so that we can do just that: to spread the sweetness of love to special people in our lives on important days. Mother’s Day is one such day, and it may be the single biggest holiday in terms of numbers of flowers bought and given. But those flowers don’t just bring beauty and love into our homes. They also bring small packets of food meant to be consumed by flowers, not by people.

What exactly is in those little packets? Cut flowers tend to droop and wilt quickly, so the packets contain a mixture of sugar and other additives to keep the flowers looking pretty as long as possible. Depending on the specific brand and type of flower food, one of the additives might be bleach, which reduces the amounts of microbes like fungi and bacteria that can cause the flowers to deteriorate more quickly. They may also contain small amounts of weak acids such as citric acid, to help maintain the pH of the water.

Accidental ingestion can happen through a couple of different ways, and most often happens to children. Sometimes, for example, children might eat the dry powder, thinking it looks like sugar – which it is, at least in part. On other occasions, someone may accidentally drink the water containing the dissolved substance, or even intentionally drink it out of curiosity.

What happens if the flower food is ingested? Typically, and thankfully, not much. The taste of the mixture may seem unpleasant and might trigger gagging or coughing. Larger ingested amounts may potentially lead to nausea or vomiting, but those situations occur less often.

Still, accidental ingestion of the flower food can seem scary. Our ERS representatives field calls from worried mothers and fathers every year, with over 100 such calls typically coming in just around Mother’s Day. Listening to recordings of some of these calls, you can often hear that special tone in the caller’s voice that parents know very well – the hesitation, the forced calm, the hope of hearing reassuring news struggling to prevail over the fear of receiving bad news.

You can also hear a marked change in the tone of the caller’s voice after our ERS rep pulls the safety data sheet (SDS) for the specific flower food, and tells the parent the product has the lowest possible hazard rating of 0 on a scale of 0 to 4. Our rep then will advise the parent to rinse their child’s mouth with water and provide one or two glasses of water to drink, and give a local poison control number – assuring the caller they’re only providing it as a precaution. The worry is gone from the caller’s voice now, and is replaced with calm, and gratitude.

“Sometimes people are pretty concerned when their kids consume the flower food,” says Juli Harvey, Manager of ERS Operations at VelocityEHS. “We reassure them that it’s usually not serious. They just need to keep an eye on the kids for a while to monitor symptoms, if any. We also tell them specific things to keep an eye out for and give them directions to follow, including the numbers for local poison control centers as a precaution.”

The Emergency Response Information You Need, When You Need It

Of course, the benefit of having access to a service like VelocityEHS ERS is that you always have exposure support from industry professionals, no matter the scenario. Personal life examples like these flower food ingestion cases remind us that chemicals are everywhere, and we need fast access to hazard information. This is truer than ever right now, with many companies making production changes in response to COVID-19 that introduce new chemicals to the workplace, or bringing in large quantities of cleaning products to support their disinfecting schedules.

That’s where our Emergency Response Services can help improve workplace safety regarding chemicals, by giving you on-the-spot chemical exposure support to prevent serious injuries, and even save lives in the event of a chemical emergency. VelocityEHS puts trained specialists with more than 70 years of combined emergency call center experience at your workers’ fingertips. Toxicologists and medical technicians are on call at all times to provide critical chemical safety information and escalated incident reporting through a convenient hotline. Backed by our industry-leading database, your employees — global or domestic — also get unlimited, 24/7 email or fax access to your company’s inventory of SDSs through a convenient hotline. This not only helps protect your employees, but also helps ensure compliance with SDS right-to-know, accessibility and library back-up requirements of global hazard communication regulations.

If you’re the manufacturer of a product, you can also turn to us for support with getting our toll-free number on your labels and packaging so we can help field your customers’ medical exposure support and SDS inquires.  And these are just some of the ways our Emergency Response Services can help! To learn more about how we can help and to request a quote, visit our Emergency Response Services page.