Holiday Safety by Randy DeVaul

Celebrating the Holidays Safely
By Randy DeVaul

Celebrate the holidays safely with kids and pets.

The holiday season is here. And the last thing anyone wants is a disaster involving family members or pets. So, follow these tips to ensure the holidays remain happy.

First, if celebrating the holidays as new parents or grandparents, congratulations and enjoy. But don’t forget to “childproof” everything so that new addition to the family — baby or pet — is safe from hazards.

Whether a dog or a 2-year-old human, they are likely to eat and drink things first only to wonder later if it was worth it. Dr. Kathryn Fell, DVM, of Davenport’s Atlantic Veterinary Clinic warns pet owners about certain holiday plants that can be fatal if ingested. Holly with its berries look enticing but can be toxic. Mistletoe, ivy, and poinsettias may also be poisonous. If not fatal, there may still be a need to clean up various organic shapes and smells that is not celebratory in nature.

Cats love tinsel. A cat ingesting tinsel can suffer from blocked intestines, creating pain and perhaps death. A baby at floor level loves placing everything in his or her mouth. Tinsel, electrical cords, tree lights, are all now “discoverable” and dangerous. A broken ornament can be imbedded in paws or feet, or can be swallowed.

Do not place aspirin in the tree stand water. Aspirin-laced water can be fatal to pets. An animal drinking from the tree stand can also be poisoned. The water can contain fertilizers and pine needles (which can puncture holes in intestines) and stagnant water breeds millions of interesting bacteria. Also, pets should be watched so they do not eat wrapped gifts or extension cords, so placing netting or screening around the tree will eliminate a multitude of hazards.

Although tempting, don’t feed pets table scraps. For example, Dr. Fell advises to not share grapes, raisins, garlic, or candies, which can all play havoc with pets’ systems. If a person just can’t help sharing, Dr. Fell says that limited amounts of green beans (not the casserole), carrots, or low-fat meat, such as chicken, are OK.

Dr. Fell does not recommend giving a pet as a surprise gift.

“Pets are a lifetime commitment, not a seasonal gift that can be stored away,” she says.

So, instead she highly recommends “donating pet food, toys, and money in their name or visit and play with the animals” at a shelter. Volunteering is a great way to get involved. The Polk County Humane Society agrees with Dr. Fell and suggests that when ready to get a pet, think about a rescue or pound animal.

The increased holiday activity and all those visitors can over-stress a new baby or pet. Pets and young children do not like change. Remember that new baby or pet may not yet know grandparents, cousins, uncles, and such. Maintain regular feeding and exercise schedules and give them (both) a little extra attention so they know they are loved.

While keeping kids and pets safe, do not forget all of those fixins’ that will be consumed throughout the day. The Centers for Disease Control warn that foodborne illnesses cause 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.

The Publix website offers at-home food safety tips, including ways to purchase, store, prepare, and serve food and safely address leftovers to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.

When purchasing food, place meat and poultry items in the shopping cart last and keep them separated. Refrigerate these meats as soon as possible. If shopping for canned vegetables, purchase cans that are not dented, cracked or bulging.

Wrap, bag, or plate meat before placing it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t leak raw juices onto other foods. Keep the refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees F to prevent growth of foodborne bacteria.

Bacteria thrive in food between 40-140 degrees F when in that range for longer than two hours.  Prepare, store, and eat leftovers with food at the proper temperature range. The most common food handling mistake is cooling food too slowly before placing back in the refrigerator.

So, thaw meats in the fridge and not at room temperature. Don’t stuff the turkey the night before. That body cavity insulates the stuffing and produces millions of tiny bacteria. Cook meats at temperatures above 325 degrees F. Don’t let prepared food set out as daylong munchies. Use good personal hygiene habits. Coughing, sneezing, and body-part-picking do not enhance the flavor. In other words, it’s okay to make things from scratch — just don’t scratch while you make them. That was a joke but foodborne bacteria and subsequent illness aren’t. Take precautions as necessary.

Enjoy the holidays with family of all ages and species. Prepare adequately for the holidays properly so everyone can enjoy and celebrate safely.