20 June 2013
Following a joint CHOICE and Channel 7 News investigation, it has been found that children’s cuddly toys containing wheat bags needed only a few minutes in the microwave to pose a potentially deadly threat to consumers.
The investigation comes in the wake of reported house fires, injuries and one death in NSW1.
“It’s concerning to think that these wheat bags can find their way into cots and the hands of Australian kids yet can reach temperatures of more than 70 degrees when following manufacturer’s instructions” says CHOICE head of media, Tom Godfrey.
CHOICE did two tests. In the first test, a typical wheat bag was heated for just two minutes (at full power in an 1100W microwave oven). The outer material was a comfortably warm 50-55°C, but the internal temperature reached well over 70°C. Even higher temperatures were measured after another minute of heating.
In a second test with Channel 7 News, CHOICE assessed a wheat bag designed to go inside a polyester toy animal as a warmer for children. Going against the supplied instructions, it was microwaved with the toy animal covering still on for more than the recommended time.
After a few minutes the wheat bag was steaming hot, and after seven minutes it began to smoulder. The microwave was stopped after eight minutes because of intense and noxious smoke. The toy measured over 200°C.
While this was an extreme test it highlights the danger wheat bags can pose when misused.
Wheat bags have been used for many years as an inexpensive, convenient and reusable winter warmer and heat treatment for sore muscles. If heated longer than recommended, and placed under bed covers or wrapped in a towel, the wheat may smoulder and self-combust, setting fire to the bag and surroundings. CHOICE says wheat bags should not be used with babies or young children.
CHOICE tips for using a wheat bag safely
- Never wrap or cover a wheat bag.
- Avoid products that contain wrapped wheat bags for example cuddly soft toys containing a compartment for wheat bags.
- To heat a bed, use a hot water bottle instead.
- If you notice a burning smell coming from the bag, let it cool and then dispose of it.
- Fragrant oils added to the wheat bag may increase the fire risk
- CHOICE does not recommend the use of wheat bags by children.
Visit NSW Fire and Rescue for further information http://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=9047
 Findings of Magistrate P.A. MacMahon, Deputy State Coroner, http://www.wheatbags.com.au/image/data/RAE,%20Margaret%20-%20Findings.pdf