A French agency has warned people of the risks of eating berries or leaves from decorative plants.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) seasonal message focused on holly, mistletoe and poinsettia blooms, berries and leaves that can be used to decorate cakes, homes and gardens. Ingestion of berries or leaves, particularly by children or pets, can cause symptoms of varying severity depending on the quantity consumed.

Poison control centers in France receive between 60 to 80 calls about children under the age of 15 who have accidentally put holly berries in their mouth. Almost 40 percent of cases occur during the winter holiday season between December and January.

In most cases, children put one or two berries in their mouth and do not develop any symptoms or only experience minor digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. However, ingesting a larger number of berries can lead to symptoms such as excessive salivation, vomiting and persistent diarrhea, drowsiness or seizures.

Holly leaves and berries are also toxic to animals like dogs and cats. If ingested they can develop diarrhea and vomiting or neurological symptoms such as drowsiness and coma after eating a large number of berries.

Calls to poison centers
Poison control centers receive around 40 calls per year concerning children who have put Mistletoe leaves or berries in their mouths. Three-quarters of these cases take place in November and January.

Most children do not develop symptoms or show only mild digestive signs after having a small amount of berries. However, cardiac rhythm disorders or a drop in blood pressure or neurological disorders such as drowsiness can be observed if many berries are ingested.

Mistletoe leaves and berries are possibly lethal if they are consumed by domestic animals or grazing herbivores such as cows, sheep or horses.

Placing a Poinsettia leaf in the mouth can cause mild digestive symptoms in children. However, for a pet, chewing several leaves or stems can have serious consequences, such as digestive problems or excessive salivation.

ANSES advised the public that if a child has placed leaves or berries of holly, mistletoe or another ornamental plant in their mouth to clean the child’s mouth with a wet cloth, do not give them anything to drink, and call a poison control center. The label should be kept or a photo of the plant taken to help with identification.

In other news
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and ANSES have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote scientific and technical cooperation between the two agencies on food safety. The MOU was signed by Lim Kok Thai, chief executive officer of SFA, and Roger Genet, director-general of ANSES.

Lim said the food system has become increasingly complex and globalized.

“SFA will continue to forge strong partnerships with our counterparts from like-minded countries to keep Singapore’s food safety regulatory framework robust and stay abreast of global food safety developments,” he said.

Potential areas of collaboration include risk assessment of chemical and microbiological food safety hazards; testing programs for chemical and microbiological food safety; safety assessments of novel foods; and emerging food safety risks.

Swedish and Norwegian advice
Meanwhile, Livsmedelsverket (Swedish Food Agency) has provided information on which fish are good to eat at Christmas and which may contain high levels of environmental toxins. The agency reported it receives a lot of questions on the topic so it published tips for the festive season.

Fish is a good and healthy food which contains important nutrients. The advice is to eat it two to three times a week and have different varieties.

However, some fish also contain high amounts of organic environmental pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs. This is influenced by where the fish comes from. For children, young people and those who want to get pregnant in the future, it is important to reduce exposure to these substances.

In the EU, there are maximum limits for the amount of dioxins and PCBs that some animal foods may contain. However, species exempt from these limits are wild-caught herring larger than 17 centimeters, salmon, char, trout and river lamprey caught in the Baltic Sea area, including Lake Vänern and Lake Vättern, and sold in the Swedish market.

Livsmedelsverket has produced a video with Sofia B Olsson, kitchen manager at a seafood restaurant in Gothenburg, about fish with high levels of environmental toxins.

Tips for leftovers
Finally, Mattilsynet (Norwegian Food Safety Authority) has published tips on preparation and storage of food at Christmas.

The most common causes of food poisoning are inadequate cooking, delayed cooling of food, storage at too high a temperature and poor cleaning, according to the agency.

Advice covers potential sources of infection, serving hot food, eating leftovers, making food the day before, refrigerator space and temperature, cross contamination and handwashing.

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