Andrea Mulder-Slater: The Art of Childhood


The Serious Health Threat in Your Spice Cupboard

How I learned about the dangers of a sweet smelling spice

The dangers of cinnamon

It was supposed to be a relaxing afternoon of crafting.

My then 4 year-old daughter and I had decided to make homemade play dough – as we so often did.

The ingredients were few: water, salt, flour, cream of tartar and oil, with a touch of food colouring thrown in for fun.

The process went a little something like this.

Me:  Ok, now pour in the salt. Careful – don’t touch the pan. The pan is hot. Don’t touch the pan!

The 4 year old: Ok mommy. I won’t touch it.

Me: Perfect, now pour in the flour. The pan is hot. DON’T TOUCH THE PAN!

The 4 year old: I won’t touch the pan.

And on it went, until I burned my hand on the hot pan and my girl ate a handful of salt, hoping it might taste like sugar.

You know, there are times when I look at the wise little person before me and see the mature grown-up she will become. Then, there are times that send me hurtling head first into the far corners of my mind where bluebirds sing, ladybugs dance, and no one can hear me crying.

On that afternoon - a relaxing afternoon of making play dough - I decided to add cinnamon to our mixture. The holidays were coming and quite frankly, plain play dough smells of old feet and the sour breath of a dog on the wrong diet. My daughter helpfully shook the jar, releasing the pungent spice into the bowl while I kneaded the ingredients into a pile.

What happened next was terrifying.

“I need water!”

My little girl jumped down from the step stool she had been standing on and ran to the sink.

“Did you eat too much salt?” I questioned, frantically searching for a cup.

“No,” she sobbed, “cinnamon.”

I ran to my daughter’s side with a cup of water and tried to comfort her as thoughts began to race through my head - fast and furious. Cinnamon is edible. It’s a food. People eat it. We eat it. She eats it. It can’t be harmful. Could it be harmful?

 My throat is hurting!” my daughter screamed between coughing fits as she tried to gulp down the water.

Then, it hit me. When I was a kid, I once ate a handful of peppercorns, thinking they were chocolate chips. As in - the apple doesn’t far from the tree. Also, I remembered the remedy for my pepper pain was milk.

I opened the fridge, grabbed the carton and poured.  Within seconds of ingesting the milk, cinnamon shot out of my girl like a frightened mouse fleeing from a hungry owl.

It was far from poetic.

My husband was out on a coffee run, but my mother was in the house and so while trying to remain calm, I called her into the kitchen. She immediately paged Dr. Google and what she discovered was disturbing.  For one thing a party game known as “The Cinnamon Challenge” had been sending adolescents to hospitals across the country…

I phoned my husband, who headed straight for home. Meanwhile, my child was improving slightly yet still experiencing waves of distress, partly from the discomfort, but also from the thought of additional cinnamon ejections. After all, this was only the second time in her life that food had made its way out of her the wrong way around. The first involved the phrase “spitting spaghetti.”

After calling our province’s free health line, I was transferred to Poison Control where the person on the other end of the line suggested we speed our way to the emergency room, "just to be safe."

By the time we arrived at the hospital, things had calmed down enormously and after witnessing the casual gait of the on-call doctor as he entered our room, I was fairly certain that everything would be all right. After a thorough heart, lung and throat inspection, he informed us that cinnamon is an irritant which is not be eaten dry.

Duly noted.

But most of all, he told us my daughter was 100% fine.

At the end of the day, we were incredibly lucky, though at the time I don't think I realized just how lucky we were.  When I read the recent news about a Kentucky family who lost their 4-year-old son (after he crawled onto the kitchen counter and ate a mouthful of dry cinnamon) I felt as though someone wearing steel-toed boots had kicked me squarely in the gut. Twice. My heart aches for the parents of that little boy.

At best, eating dry cinnamon will result in a sore throat and upset stomach. However, inhaling it (or other spices) can be life threatening. So talk to your kids about the potential dangers and if they are too young to understand, lock up your spices or place them in a high, inaccessible cupboard. Do it now. And always supervise your young children closely when they assist with cooking and baking.

Their lives may depend on it.

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