Keep Family Healthy, Safe For Holidays

The next month is a time we often spend with families and friends. We are often shopping, traveling, decorating and cooking. What steps can we take to make sure that we remain safe and healthy during what many song artists say and many of us believe is “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Because we are often out and about, touching items to purchase for that someone special, grabbing a quick meal on the run and just being in contact with hundreds of strangers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands.

When washing your hands, make sure you use warm water and soap and rub them together for at least 20 seconds using running water. This is important for both adults and children and especially before you touch your face or eat. Hand sanitizer is a good in-between clean-up, but using soap and water is your best bet.

Also, if you sneeze and do not have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow instead of your hands to cover your mouth and nose. This is another good way to prevent the spreading of germs.

If you are traveling, have a safety plan in place ahead of time. Use your mobile apps or have a map so you know where you are going. Watch the weather in your area and the area you are traveling. Have extra water, snacks and blankets stored in your car along with a flashlight and an emergency kit with flares in case there is unexpected bad weather and you end up stuck along the road.

Wear your safety belt at all times, and if you are traveling with children make sure they are in car seats that are the correct size and installed properly. If you have a long trip, take breaks along the way; if you are tired, pull over and rest. Remember that there are many people traveling during the holidays and it’s best to book a motel/hotel room in advance.

Drive the speed limit and slow down. It’s better to be a little late than not to arrive at all. And finally, never drink and drive. If you have had too much fun and drinks at that office or family party, call a friend, cab or Uber. Consider your own life and the lives of others that may also be on the road.

When decorating consider fire safety. Most fires happen during the winter months. Many people have fireplaces going, candles burning and extra electrical wires used for lighting our homes and trees. Have your chimney checked before you use your fireplace. Creosote can build up in the chimney and cause a fire. Never leave candles unattended when burning. Keep them away from children, curtains, trees or other flammable items. When using lights to decorate, check all the wiring. Be careful not to put furniture or rugs on top of the wiring or extension cords, and check that children, pets or the elderly cannot get a hold of them or trip over them.

Finally, when you are cooking, consider food safety at all times. First, wash your hands before you handle any food. Plan ahead. If you are planning to have a turkey, give yourself time for it to thaw safely in the refrigerator. If it is not defrosted all the way, then use a cold sink of water and change the water every 30 minutes, or use the microwave. Never defrost your turkey or any other meat on the counter.

Be careful not to cross-contaminate fresh foods with raw meat or fish. Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw foods and cooked foods. Do not rinse raw meat or poultry. That action tends to spread more bacteria. Cook foods to the correct temperature. Always use a food thermometer when cooking any meats. If you are cooking a turkey, cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Put your leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours.

Remember to think safety and health as you enjoy one of the most wonderful times of the year! Happy holidays!

Cheryl Kaczor is an assistant professor for West Virginia University Extension Services and is a families and health agent in Marshall County. She has a master’s degree in community health promotion from WVU and a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Rutgers University.