Safety alerts and warnings issued during the holidays have grown exponentially in recent years -- everything from the feds reminding us about the dangers of cheap Christmas lights to consumer groups warning about burning candles. Another holiday tradition in early December is that child-safety advocates release their naughty-toy lists.

Despite progress in toy safety, more than 255,000 toy-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2001, and 25 toy-related deaths were reported for children under 15, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The biggest dangers come from choking and strangulation hazards and sharp edges.

One toy on World Against Toys Causing Harm's (WATCH) 2002 list, for instance, is Curious George, the plush doll that made last year's list and was recalled because its soft mobile phone and small accessories are choking hazards. WATCH found the menacing monkey back in some stores last month.

WATCH also warns this year about the rigid plastic point on the Digital Monsters Digimon Bank, eye-endangering "interceptor missiles" fired by the Hot Wheels Sling Shotz Blaster, and the sharp, grater-like edge on the Snoopy & Friends Sno-Cone Machine.

In its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group warned that balloons and toys with small parts continue to pose the biggest hazards. Among items it dinged: 280,000 toy sponges and 310,000 stuffed polyester pool animals, all potential chokers that have been recalled by Dollar Tree Stores Inc. of Virginia.

Searching Unsafe Toys

Before trashing receipts and wrapping toys, take a look at the online toy-recall database launched last week by, a project of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America Foundation.

CFAF spokesman Jack Gillis says the new service is "a simple tool" for avoiding "potential problem toy purchases and also making sure that what is in your toy chest is safe."

The database of 350 toys spanning 20 years of recalls allows searches by a child's age, the month and year of a recall, the toy's name, its manufacturer, or the type of safety problem. Searching "choking," for example, found 207 recalls listed by toy name and by age range. The site also provides links to recalled bicycles, dolls and toys for children 3 years and younger, plus safety tips. plans to maintain the database year-round. The Web site also offers a free e-mail service that notifies parents of major child-safety product recalls.

Unsafe Cookbooks

Last week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine warned that health-conscious gift-buyers shopping for popular celebrity cookbooks should scratch some recipe collections from their list.

Many of the most popular celebrity cookbooks are recipes for an unhealthy life, according to these docs.

"Given the staggering rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer in this country, we thought we ought to take a look at what sort of celebrity cookbooks Americans might be getting for Christmas," says PCRM dietitian Jen Keller, who grilled the top 10 cookbooks in search of healthy recipes (low-fat, cholesterol-free and fiber-rich) and nutritional information.

Among PCRM's findings: "Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes" is as unhealthy as Stewart's stock portfolio; rock musician Ted Nugent's "Kill It & Grill It" is grisly but little else; and Emeril Lagasse's "Prime Time Emeril" needs a nutritional boost. The best-selling "Sopranos Family Cookbook," say the PCRM physicians, packs so much fat and cholesterol that it ought to be a crime.

The top-rated celeb cookbook? Marilu Henner's "Healthy Holidays: Total Health Entertaining All Year Round." It includes a nutrition section, and all recipes are dairy-free.

Recipe for disaster? "Al Roker's signature dish, 'Steaks as Big as Your Head,' probably deserves top honors," Keller says of the "Today" show weatherman's book "Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue."

"What could be worse than everyone's favorite weatherman recommending people eat more meat and increase their risks of obesity, colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes?"

Got a consumer complaint? Question? E-mail details to or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.