Buyer be educated. That’s the idea that product safety experts at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) want shoppers to keep in mind. ‘Know the child; know the toy,’ said Alice Rogers with the DSHS environmental and consumer safety section. ‘Put these two pieces of information together, and buyers have a better chance of giving a gift that is both enjoyed and safe.’ ‘Reading labels for age recommendations and learning about recalled items helps consumers make better, safer choices among the thousands of items available for children whether in retail stores or resale shops,’ Rogers said. A label will tell a consumer two important things: if a toy is not safe for younger children and why it is not safe. Toys meant for older children may have parts or strings that can choke or strangle a younger child, especially those under 3. ‘Be careful at home when you have children of different ages,’ Rogers said. ‘It is important to keep toys meant for older children out of the reach of younger ones.’ DSHS product safety inspectors regularly visit mega-sized retail outlets, small stores and resale shops looking for dangerous children’s items and for those products that have been recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Inspectors also educate sellers about recall information. Many stores, including large resale shops, now post the recall notices for the public. ‘Consumers have access to the same information when planning their shopping,’ Rogers said. People can look at a list of recalled items and sign up to receive recall information directly from the CPSC at their Web site at www.cpsc.gov. One of the major concerns this year has been toys recalled because of lead hazards. Lead may be used in two ways during toy manufacturing ‘ in the paint on the toys and in plastics. Toys that have been made in other countries and imported into the United States or antique toys and collectibles passed down through generations may expose children to lead. Only a certified laboratory can accurately test a toy for lead. Though do-it-yourself kits are available, they do not indicate how much lead is present, and their reliability at detecting low levels of lead has not been determined. ‘If you suspect your child has been exposed to a toy containing lead, take the toy away and call your health care provider to see if your child needs to be tested,’ Rogers said. DSHS offers these additional safety tips: ‘Select toys to suit the age, abilities, skills and interests of the child. Look for sturdy construction such as tightly secured eyes, noses, buttons and other small parts. ‘Do not buy toys with small parts or items such as marbles, small balls or balloons for children under 3. ‘For children under 6, avoid building sets with small magnets. If magnets or magnetic pieces are swallowed, serious injury or death could occur. ‘For children under 8, avoid electric toys with heating elements and toys with sharp edges and points. ‘If you buy arrows or darts, be sure they have rubber suction cups or flexible, protective tips that stay secured when used. If your children receive arrows or darts, teach them how to play with them safely. Arrows and darts are not recommended for children under 5. ‘Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Read the warnings and instructions. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children. Some chargers do not have any way to prevent overcharging. ‘Discard plastic wrappings on toys immediately, before they become deadly playthings. More information about toy safety is available on the DSHS Web site at www.dshs.state.tx.us/hazpro/ toys.shtm.