Warning on winter wheat bags

Safety alert ... Microwavable wheat bags must be used correctly, CHOICE has warned.
Safety alert ... Microwavable wheat bags must be used correctly, CHOICE has warned. 

They may be cute and help warm your kids up in the colder months, but cuddly toys containing wheat bags have been shown to pose a very real danger to children, according to CHOICE.

A joint CHOICE and Channel 7 News investigation showed that wheat bag toys can be potentially deadly, even when used following manufacturers instructions.

The investigation occurred after reported house fires and injuries and a death. In 2011, a NSW woman died when a wheat bag placed in her bed started a fire.  

“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°C when following manufacturer’s instructions” said CHOICE spokesperson, Tom Godfrey.

CHOICE performed two tests on the wheat bags. In the first test, a bag was heated for two minutes at full power. The outer material was a warm 50-55°C, but the internal temperature reached well over 70°C. After another minute of heating, the temperature soared even higher.

Teaming up with Channel 7 News for the second test, CHOICE used a wheat bag designed to go inside a children’s toy. They deliberately went against the manufacturer’s instructions, microwaving the toy with the bag inside for longer than recommended. The bag started to smoulder after seven minutes, and started releasing noxious smoke at eight minutes. At that stage, the temperature was above 200°C.

"[This was] an extreme test, but proof that these are dangerous when misused," the CHOICE statement said. 

If used, the wheat bags should be heated for no more than the length of time recommended by the manufacturer. It shouldn’t be placed under bed covers or wrapped in a towel or other fabric, and as it can start to smoulder and self-combust, setting fire to the bag and surroundings.

CHOICE also 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.

For more on winter wheat bags, read about the test on the CHOICE website.