It's time to finalize your holiday menu and start planning your tinsel-inspired decorations and fabulous light display. It's also a good time to stop and think about the health and safety of you and your family. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or nothing at all, the reality is there are more emergency room visits during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Here are our top tips on what to look out for and how to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.

Food Poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) more than 76 million people get sick from food-borne illnesses every year in the United States. Most people are unaware of the dangers that go along with cooking. As turkey or another meat features on most people's holiday dinner tables, it's no surprise that there's a dramatic spike in food poisoning during the festive season. If you're preparing Thanksgiving or any holiday dinner, there are a few food-safety requirements to be particularly mindful of. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established food-safety guidelines to help ensure a delicious and safe meal.

  • Stay clean. Wash your hands with soap before and after handling food, and be sure to wash all surfaces that have come into contact with any food (countertops, cutting boards, utensils, etc.). Sponges often harbor bacteria, so limit where you use them and rinse between uses. It's important to rinse raw fruit and vegetables with water, but do not wash raw meat as this can allow for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.
  • Separate food. Bacteria can easily spread from one food item to another. Take extra precaution and make sure you keep raw meat and egg products away from food that won't be cooked. The FDA suggests using one cutting board for foods that will be cooked and another one for any fruits and vegetables that won't be cooked. Once meat has been cooked, place it on a clean/unused platter or dish.
  • Cook thoroughly. Make sure you are cooking food to a high enough temperature in order to kill any harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat is properly cooked. Turkey or other poultry is usually considered safely cooked when the temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees. Wash and rinse the thermometer between uses to prevent contamination. When reheating food or eating leftovers, heat soups and sauces to a rapid boil.
  • Cool food quickly. Harmful bacteria can spread faster at room temperature. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers within two hours. Don't defrost food at room temperature; foods can be safely defrosted in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or under cold water. As a general guideline, any leftover turkey should be eaten within three to four days, while stuffing or gravy should be eaten within one to two days.

Visit the Food Safety Learning Center for more information.

Fire Safety

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of hundreds of people each year and injure thousands more. Whether you are decorating your home with a Christmas tree or open-flame candles in a menorah or a kinara, there are numerous fire-hazards to be aware of. It's important to have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your house. Be sure to test your alarms, and know what to do in the case of a fire. Follow these guidelines to reduce the risk of fire.

Tree Safety

  • Choose a safe tree. Dry, dying trees are most likely to catch on fire. It's important to choose a tree with fresh, green needles that are difficult to pull off of the branches. When looking for the perfect tree, give it a shake and see if many needles fall off. Trees that are losing a majority of their needles are most likely old, dry, and a potential fire hazard.
  • Water early and often. Keep the tree in a stand filled with water at all times. Position your tree in a safe place. Don't place your tree too close to a fireplace or any heating source, which will quickly dry out a tree and make it more prone to ignite.
  • Take it down after the holiday. Don't keep your tree for longer than two weeks. If the tree becomes dry and begins losing needles, it's important to take it down immediately.
    Holiday Decorations & Candles
  • Care for your holiday lights. Keep an eye on your lights. Check for any frayed wires, broken sockets, or any other issues that could lead to problems. Do not overload electrical outlets, and be sure you don't leave lights on while out of the house.
  • Use safe decorations. Take care that you are using nonflammable decorations, and they are placed away from a fireplace or heat vents.
  • Take care when using candles. If you are decorating the house with lit candles, be sure they are in stable candleholders and only lit when you are in the house.

Children's Safety

With delicious food, no school, visits from family and friends, and the anticipation of presents, it's no wonder that children love the holidays. Unfortunately, alongside the festive spirit, the holidays are also a time for an increase in child-related accidents and illnesses. Talk to your children about the potential dangers during the holidays, and take extra care while celebrating.

  • Poisonous Plants. Some indoor plants used to decorate the house during the holidays are potentially poisonous. Watch out for mistletoe, poinsettia, and holly. Talk to your children about the dangers of eating plants, and keep them out of reach of babies and toddlers (and pets too).
  • Choking Hazards. With all of the snack food, holiday decorations and toys, there is a higher risk of choking. Ornaments and small toys are potential choking hazards for children. Keep small objects out of reach, particularly from infants and toddlers.
  • Dangerous Decorations. Keep any ornaments or decorations which might be breakable (glass) away from children. Bubble lights contain a small amount of methylene chloride which can cause irritation if ingested.
  • Toxic Wrapping Paper. While most gift wrap and ribbon is nontoxic, colored wrapping paper may contain lead. Don't let babies and toddlers chew on any wrapping paper.
  • Dangers in the Kitchen. Accidents in the kitchen do happen. Make sure you keep hot pots and pans out of reach from children. Turn pot handles away from reach, and make sure your children don't touch a hot oven.