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County Offers Tips for Safe and Happy Holiday

It’s the holiday season – a time when we not only celebrate our faiths, but also indulge in good food and drink, gift-giving, decorating, and reveling with family and friends. But a joyous occasion can quickly turn tragic if we don’t remember a few safety guidelines that can keep everyone happy and healthy.

Peter DeLucia, assistant commissioner for the Westchester County Bureau of Public Health Protection says attention to detail and some common sense will keep you and yours safe this season. He offers up these tips:

Keep Your Hands Clean

“Hand washing is the single most important means for not spreading infection,” DeLucia said. “During the holidays, we are constantly shaking hands. So hand washing is especially important prior to handling food. You don’t want to shake hands and go right back to food prep. When you have company over, it’s particularly important to remember to keep your hands clean.”

Keep Your Food Prep Area Organized and Sanitary

DeLucia said when you are preparing those holiday roasts and turkeys, it’s crucial to keep your kitchen organized.

“You want to have separate cutting boards – one for your raw meats and poultry and one for things like cheese and vegetables,” he said. “We are concerned with cross contamination when juices from raw meat and poultry get on something that is not going to be cooked. You want to be really careful with that because this time of year there’s a lot going on the kitchen. It’s the holidays and you can be rushed, but you still want adhere to proper procedure.”

Plan carefully so you allow enough time to cook your food properly. With turkey, don’t rely on the pop-up indicators that come with some birds. DeLucia says they’re unreliable. Instead, use a meat thermometer. Poultry should be cooked to a minimum of a 165 degrees F. Pork should be 150 degrees, while  beef should be 140 degrees, or 130 if you like it rare.

Follow Good Refrigerator Protocol

“Keep things in the fridge before you are ready to serve or cook it,” DeLucia said. “Don’t keep the food out for a long time. Remember – keep the hot food hot and keep the cold food cold.”

The refrigerator tends to get crowded during the holiday season, so good planning and organization is a must to keep food safe.

“Don’t put meat, especially the ones you’re trying to thaw on the upper shelves,” DeLucia said. “They could drip on things on the lower shelves and contaminate them. Keep meats on the bottom shelf.”

Watch Those Candles

Both Hanukkah and Christmas are a time when candles are used extensively. DeLucia says to put them in a safe place, away from flammable objects such as drapes and holiday decorations and make sure they’re placed in secure holders that won’t tip over. Make sure that they are properly extinguished – never leave candles burning when you leave the house.

Christmas Tree Safety

When buying a Christmas tree, whether it’s from an established nursery or one of the tree lots that spring up everywhere this time of year, make sure it’s fresh. DeLucia says to check the needles. Run your fingers along the branches. If the needles fall off easily, look for another tree.

Once you get the tree home, continue to water it. But before you place it in the stand, trim the trunk a bit.

“Cut about an inch off bottom of the tree because sap can seal up the bottom and it won’t take in water as well,” DeLucia said. “Once it’s set up, continue to water it.”

Place your tree wisely. Keep it away from open flames like fireplaces and other heat sources, and, of course, candles.

Respect Electricity

The holiday season means we’re going to be plugging in a lot more things – tree lights, window lights and other decorations. DeLucia said avoid using extension cords and never overload sockets with too many plugs.

“Use a power strip that is manufactured to take the load you want and make sure it has a circuit trip like a GFI (ground fault interrupter),” he said. “Don’t overload the socket and create an octopus-like situation.

“Look at you lights and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the T. You don’t want them to overheat and cause a fire. Get rid of old lights that have frayed wires.”

Change Those Batteries and Inspect Those Chimneys

If you didn't do it when we changed to standard time last month, make sure to change the batteries in your fire alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Check to make sure they are functioning properly.

DeLucia notes that in cold weather, people often employ secondary heat sources, which are sometimes dangerous.

“Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves that are rarely use the rest of the year can emit CO and create serious problems,” he said. “Make sure the fireplace flue is open and the ventilation is clean.  Maybe the squirrels make a nest in there. You want it inspected before you use it, especially if you haven’t used it all year.”

DeLucia says to avoid using kerosene heaters inside your home.

“A lot of them are not meant to be put inside a house,” he said “They’re notorious for creating CO emissions. People leave them on overnight unattended and you just can’t do that.

“Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take a couple of minutes this holiday season to follow these tips; it’s well worth it. Do a preventative checklist and set up your house properly.”

For more information on kitchen and cooking safety during the holiday season, visit the county health department’s website at

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Do you have any other holiday safety tips you’d like to share? Join the conversation and leave your comments below.

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