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Avoiding Holiday Hazards

Holiday candleThe holiday home is a place of beautiful decorations, festive foods and happy memories in the making. But take another look and you might see an accident — or several — waiting to happen. Some of these holiday hazards are dangerous to kids, some to pets, and others to the whole family — but they are easy to avoid when you take a few preventive measures.

Tree, light and candle safety

The average Christmas tree contains a wealth of holiday hazards for everyone in the family:

  • According to the U.S. Fire Administration, six times more Christmas tree fires occur in late December than in the first part of the month — proving the importance of keeping live trees well watered so that they won't dry out and become fire hazards. Artificial, fire-resistant trees are an even better idea, and look almost identical to the real thing.
  • Inspect lights for frayed or exposed wire and broken sockets before hanging them.
  • Don't leave holiday candles burning when you leave the house or go to bed! And never use candles on a tree.
  • Keep your tree in a sturdy stand and anchor the tree to the ceiling with a string.

Keeping kids and pets safe

If kids or pets are on the guest list, you'll need to take further precautions:

  • Place a screen around the tree to keep kids out of the ornaments (and the presents) and pets from jumping onto the tree, chewing on extension cords that look like chew toys, or knocking the tree over.
  • Avoid using decorations such as tinsel (which can be a choking hazard for kids or pets), angel hair (which is spun glass) and snow spray (which is toxic).
  • Kids and pets will be drawn to the kitchen, where the goodies are (who isn't?), so make sure they are supervised, that pot handles are turned inward on the stove, and that pans of hot gravy or drippings aren't somewhere that a child or pet could pull them down.
  • Always clean up after a holiday party (or any party) where alcoholic drinks are served.
  • It's easy for toddlers to get hurt when everyone thinks that someone else is watching them, so designate a specific person to watch each child at family gatherings.
  • Remind adults not to leave hot coffee or other hot drinks where a child can reach them — many children are scalded every year by hot drinks belonging to adults who aren't accustomed to having kids around!
  • Pets can get stressed out by large crowds and may run out of the house unnoticed if the door is opened often. Make sure pets have a quiet place to retreat to in the house — and a collar with a name tag, just in case.
  • If you decorate with plants, avoid poisonous ones such as holly, poinsettia, mistletoe and lilies.

For many more pet safety tips, see the Partnership for Animal Welfare's Holiday Pet Safety Checklist. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has a helpful list of holiday safety tips to keep your little ones safe.

Danger on the holiday buffet table

With seasonal favorites such as egg nog (made with raw eggs) and cooked food sitting at room temperature for hours, holiday meals and buffets can be a case of food poisoning waiting to happen. Practice food preparation and storage safety with these tips:

  • Wash hands, cutting boards and food prep utensils often.
  • Use separate utensils for preparation and serving, or at least wash them well in between uses.
  • Separate raw foods from cooked foods — foods that are meant to be eaten raw (e.g., salad, carrot sticks) should not be cut on the same surface as meat or cooked foods.
  • Put food away promptly, and don't reuse food that was left out for hours and then refrigerated. It's not worth the risk.

Holiday safety for the whole family

Fireplaces, furnaces and space heaters create welcome warmth, but they also create deadly carbon monoxide gas. To play it safe, purchase a carbon monoxide detector and watch for the warning signs of exposure, including headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, ringing in the ears and seeing spots. Call the nearest emergency room or fire department immediately if your family experiences these symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Your fireplace should also be professionally inspected and cleaned before you light the first fire of the season. Remember to keep wrapping paper away from the hearth as you open your gifts. And don't burn paper or pine boughs in the fireplace — small pieces of burning materials can float up and ignite nearby homes or trees.

As you enjoy being with your loved ones, remember to keep them safe with these tips — and have a happy, healthy holiday season.

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