OTTAWA - The Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health Canada is warning consumers that heating grain-filled pillows in a microwave can pose a fire hazard.
    These pillows are intended for heat or cold therapy to relieve pain. Instructions for some of these pillows indicate that they can be frozen, or heated in a microwave or regular oven. Some are sold without any warnings or directions for use.

    Health Canada has investigated an incident in which a pillow filled with buckwheat husks started a fire in the user's bedroom, after having been heated in a microwave oven and then placed under a blanket.

    Testing by Health Canada shows that flameless burning can occur if a pillow is heated in a microwave oven longer than the manufacturer's maximum recommended heating period. Tests were conducted on two materials: buckwheat husks and oat grain. While buckwheat husks are more flammable, oat-grain filled pillows will also ignite if overheated.

    The risk of fire is further increased by heating a pillow several times a day without allowing it to cool down between each use, or by storing it in a hot or dry location. All of these conditions reduce the moisture content of the filling and make it easier to ignite. What makes microwave heating especially dangerous is that there may be no signs of burning until sometime after the pillow is removed from the oven.

    Health Canada has advised known maufacturers and distributors that heating should not be recommended for grain-filled pillows unless the manufacturer can demonstrate that the product can be heated safely. Otherwise, the product label should state that the contents are flammable and should not be heated.

    These pillows are sold in several sizes, with fillings of various grains. They are available in stores or by mail order, or from small manufacturers, local distributors, flea markets and craft shows. Filling materials are also sold in bulk to allow people to make their own pillows.

    Before buying a grain-filled pillow, consumers should check that the directions for use include the following:
                Maximum heating period
                Minimum time period between consecutive heatings
                Maximum number of heatings per day
                Warnings of the fire hazard if instructions for use are not followed

    Health Canada has asked manufacturers and distributors to include this information in the directions for use, which should be permanently attached to the pillow.

    Consumers who are not sure whether a pillow can be safely heated should contact the nearest regional HPB office of Health Canada.