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Avoid these common home hazards and you’ll spare yourself a trip to the emergency room.

Produce and household items can easily turn into home hazards if not properly stored and used after their expiration date.  Here is our list of how to treat and test some items that have the potential to cause illness due to going off or containing poisonous substances.

home hazards in the fridge

The expiry date on food containers is not some marketing ploy; it’s there for a reason. If something has expired, chuck it. The other golden rule is simple: when in doubt, throw it out.


These can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five weeks after purchase, but keep in mind that eggs drop in grades the longer they are kept. If you’re unsure, do the ancient egg-test: put the egg in a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s bad.


Normal varieties of block cheese can get mouldy and it’s okay to cut off the mould and still use the cheese. But if the cheese smells bad as well, bin it. If there is mould in a container of cottage cheese or spreading cheese, throw it out. For pungent varieties –   blue cheese and others – stick to the expiry date.

Other dairy

The expiry date on milk, yoghurt and other dairy products is a good indicator, but these can sometimes still be consumed a day or two later. Your best bet is smell and texture. If your milk starts looking like your yoghurt and your yoghurt resembles your cottage cheese, chuck them.

Fruit and veggies

Keep fruit and vegetables separate – fruit releases ethylene, which speeds up the ripening process of vegetables. Throw out any mushy and mouldy fruit and veggies.


Judging meat  by its colour can be misleading. Meat from older animals, for example, will most likely be darker in texture than from younger animals. Meat can also turn redder when exposed to fresh air.  If there is even a hint of an odour, do not eat it. The same goes for fish – a bad smell will be the first sign that it’s off.

Other refrigeration tips
  • Don’t store raw and cooked foods together. Put raw meats on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that the juices can’t spill onto other foods.
  • Cooked food should be stored in the fridge no more than two hours after cooking. Rice, especially, is a haven for bacteria.
  • Cool down the warm rice with cold water immediately after eating and place it in the fridge or freeze it.
  • Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days.
  • Don’t put open canned food in the fridge. Acidic foods can interact with the metal.
  • Don’t wash fruit and vegetables before you store them. It might speed up spoilage.

home hazards in your cupboards

Bottles and canisters with cleaning fluids and “spring-fresh” smells may not be as innocent as they look. Do not store these products under your sink. Rather keep them on a higher shelf that children can’t reach, even when they’re standing on a chair. Flammable and combustible liquids are also potential fuel sources for fires and must be stored away from ignition points, such as electrical panels and plugs and in cool, well-ventilated areas.

Air freshener

Many of these  contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters and alcohols, which can create health problems. Air-freshener fragrances can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma.”

All-purpose cleaner

Many household cleaners contain ammonia and the fumes can irritate the eyes and lungs and may cause a rash or burn when spilt onto the skin. Never mix a product containing ammonia with another substance, especially not with any product that has bleach in it, as this can create a potentially deadly chloramine gas. The golden rule for the use and storage of products that contain ammonia is to follow the instructions on the bottle.


Standard household bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, a toxic skin irritant that is also highly corrosive to the lungs and eyes. It can cause pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs) or vomiting and may induce a coma if ingested.

Carpet and upholstery shampoo

Some carpet cleaners contain the same chemical solvents dry-cleaners use. They clean the carpets without soap and water, but produce fumes from formaldehyde, acids, pesticides, disinfectants and lye. As this process does not dissolve the dirt, the particles evaporate causing indoor air pollution. Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of respiratory conditions such as irritations and infections of the respiratory tract and can worsen asthma. It can also cause headaches, dry eyes, nausea and fatigue.

Drain cleaner

This normally contains sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide or sulphuric acid. The latter is a very strong, corrosive chemical. Depending on the concentration of the solution, sulphuric acid can cause severe burns on the skin and, if it comes into contact with the eyes, can lead to blindness.

Mould and mildew cleaners

Detergents, hydrogen peroxide, sodium, hypochlorite, sodium perborate and sodium percarbonate are among the poisonous ingredients in some of these cleaners. Swallowing, breathing in the product or spraying it in the eyes is potentially dangerous. It can harm airways and lungs, eyes, ears, nose, throat, gastrointestinal organs, heart, blood, the nervous system and the skin.

Oven cleaner

A common ingredient found in many oven cleaners is sodium hydroxide, better known as caustic soda. This substance can remove paint, corrode certain metals, dull glass, eat rubber and distort certain elements. Imagine what it could do to your skin, eyes or intestines?

treating poisoning

The Poison Information Centre at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital says each household product contains many different active ingredients – making them potential home hazards, causing harm in various ways. Therefore, there is no specific way to treat certain general product poisonings at home. It is advised to  immediately call a poison centre for advice (see “emergency hotlines”).

Read our article on first aid for home emergencies.

Four golden rules of home safety

1. Teach everyone in your household the emergency telephone numbers and keep them next to the phone.

2. Read package inserts, labels and instructions. Follow all instructions listed by the manufacturer.

3. Attend a first-aid course and ensure that anyone caring for your child does the same.

4. Identify and eliminate home hazards, i.e., potentially unsafe objects, products and situations in and around the home.

Courtesy of Childsafe

Find vital tips on keeping your children safe in the home.

 emergency hotlines