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Holiday shopping: Toying with safety

Make sure the toys you're buying for children don't hazard a dangerous encounter.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- The holidays may conjure images of sugarplums and fairies...and let's face it... toys for children of all ages. But it's not all fun and games.

Last year, there were 20 toy-related deaths involving young children and more than 150,000 injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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In today's top tips we're going to tell you what you need to know about safe holiday shopping.

1: Think Big

When it comes to toys, sometimes bigger is better. Most toy fatalities are a result of choking. Toy parts should be bigger than the child's mouth for children under the age of 3. You'll want to avoid buying toys with magnets for kids who are six years old or younger.

As a rule of thumb, you can determine if a toy will pose a chocking hazard by carrying the cylinder from a roll of toilet paper with you. If the toy fits through it, then it's not safe. Remember, it's not only small moving parts that could pose a choking hazard to your little one.

Children like to pull and twist toys and often try to put them in their mouths. You'll want to make sure that eyes, noses, buttons, and other parts that could break off the toy are securely attached.

2: Comb the label

The only label required by law is the choking/small parts label, says Julie Vallese of the CPSC. But when you're buying toys, you want to make sure products are held to even higher levels of voluntary certification.

If you're buying art supplies for a budding artist, look for the ASTM designation on the package on crayons and paints. ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. This designation means the item has been reviewed by a toxicologist and is safe for kids to use.

Electric toys must meet certain safety standards for construction and wiring. Look for labeling that states the toy is UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved. This means the risk for fire or smoke is less likely.

You may also look for the CSA label. This stands for the Canadian Standards Association (you will find the label on US products). Look for the words "flame resistant" on fabric like PJs. If sleepwear isn't flame resistant, which likely means it's made of cotton, make sure it's tight fitting.

3: Beware of buying toys online

Internet toy retailers don't have to include information about choking hazards or age-appropriateness in their product descriptions. However, the labels should be visible on the package once you receive it.

Keep in mind, some online toy sellers may be foreign manufacturers whose products aren't even required to meet strict U.S. regulations - so be careful when buying online. If you see no age recommendation or warning label in the ad, call the manufacturer for that information.

4: Know where to go

If you've already collected a stash of toys for the holidays and you want to make sure there hasn't been any recalls, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site at

You can also call (800) 638-CPSC to report a toy you think is unsafe. For independent and non-profit toy reviews, check out or


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