Its 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 dont 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 dont want to shake hands and go right back to food prep. When you have company over, its 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, its 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 theres a lot going on the kitchen. Its 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, dont rely on the pop-up indicators that come with some birds. DeLucia says theyre 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. Dont 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.
Dont put meat, especially the ones youre 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 theyre placed in secure holders that wont 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 its from an established nursery or one of the tree lots that spring up everywhere this time of year, make sure its 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 wont take in water as well, DeLucia said. Once its 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.
The holiday season means were 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. Dont overload the socket and create an octopus-like situation.
Look at you lights and follow the manufacturers instructions to the T. You dont 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 havent 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 Theyre notorious for creating CO emissions. People leave them on overnight unattended and you just cant 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; its 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 departments website at http://health.westchestergov.com/turkey-tipshttp://
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