Tips to avoid holiday hazards

Published 11:00 am Friday, December 18, 2020

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Grandma getting run over by a reindeer is not the only potential danger this holiday season. With all of the decorations, new toys and holiday food, there are several safety precautions families and individuals can take to avoid holiday hazards.

Decorations, Fire Hazards and More

For many, the holidays would not be the same without the wonderful array of decorations. Leigh Akins, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System family and child development regional agent, said some of these decorations could have the potential to be dangerous.

First, the Christmas tree. Take care to secure it in the stand to prevent it from falling and causing injury. Homeowners may consider tying it to the wall or ceiling for additional support.

“Those with a live Christmas tree should make sure it always has plenty of water, as dry trees can be a potential fire hazard,” Akins said. “Also, if buying an artificial tree, look for one with a fire-resistant label.”

Decorations on a tree can be hazardous for households with young children or pets. Akins recommends placing a flexible barrier around the tree or putting only soft and safe decorations on the lower portion of the tree. Secure these decorations with ribbon instead of the traditional metal hooks.

“Tinsel, metal hooks, plastic and glass can all be choking hazards for children and pets,” Akins said. “If swallowed, these can obstruct or puncture the digestive tract or cause other problems.”

If decorating with natural elements, remember that some of these are poisonous. Holly berries and other plants, such as lilies, mistletoe and poinsettias, are toxic and should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

Akins recommends the following additional safety guidelines when dealing with holiday decorations:

  • Place burning candles in a visible location, away from flammable items. Always blow them out before leaving the room.
  • Discard lights that have broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires and loose connections.
  • Do not overload extension cords and outlets or string too many lights strands together.
  • Always turn decorative lights off when not at home and before going to bed.

New Toys

Children are always excited when new toys are in the house. However, to keep them safe, parents should always look to the age guidance and other safety information on the toy packaging.

“Be cautious with small pieces, including button batteries, that may be included in electronic toys,” she said. “These toys can be appropriate for older children but present a serious hazard to younger children who may ingest the batteries.”

Keep toys with small parts away from children under the age of three. As a general rule, Akins said if the toy can fit through a paper towel or toilet paper roll, it is too small and is a potential choking hazard.

Also, if purchasing larger items, such as bikes, scooters and other riding toys, remember to purchase helmets and other safety gear. Helmets should fit the person wearing it and also be properly worn at all times.

Food and Kitchen Safety

While crowds may be smaller than normal, time spent in the kitchen will still be a main part of the holidays. Janice Hall, an Alabama Extension food safety and quality regional agent, said it is important to keep kitchens and meals safe for everyone.

“With a lot of cooking happening, remember to watch out for the children in the kitchen,” Hall said. “Keep them away from hot stove tops, ovens and fryers.”

It is also wise to keep all pets out of the kitchen when preparing food. Pets can carry bacteria that can easily contaminate food and food contact surfaces. Pet hair can also get in the food when people are preparing it.

Hall said when it comes to food safety, the same basic rules should be followed, even during the holidays.

“Always rinse all fruits and vegetables before cooking and/or consuming them,” she said. “Never use chemicals, such as detergents, to wash fruits and vegetables. Clean water and time will suffice.”

People should also avoid cross contamination by washing hands, surfaces and utensils between handling raw and ready to eat foods. Hall offers the following additional food safety guidelines:

  • Cook all food to the correct temperature. Use a thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Never thaw meat on the counter. Meat should thaw in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each five pounds of meat.
  • Do not put hot food in the refrigerator to cool. Bacteria can grow on warm foods kept in the danger zone (between 41°F and 135°F) for more than two hours. Putting hot foods in the refrigerator can warm the inside temperatures. This exposes all other food to dangerous temperature levels and increased bacteria growth.
  • Manage leftovers. Consume all leftovers within three to four days of preparation or freeze them. Leftovers stored properly in the freezer can last at least three months for quality purposes.