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Safety, Common Sense Help Ensure Happy Holidays

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 1999 –  I've always felt there are two important things to keep in mind during the holidays: Don't let baby mistake the light-up nose on your Rudolph decoration for her "Baby's 1st Christmas" pacifier, and go easy on the rum if you share the eggnog with your cat.

But, believe it or not, DoD safety officials have tips they insist are better than mine.

Christmas trees are central to many families' holiday celebrations and yet can be among the most dangerous. Keep these tips in mind when selecting and decorating yours:

  • Think fresh! Dry trees are an extreme fire hazard. Only a few needles should fall when you shake a fresh tree, and needles should bend but not break.
  • Keep your tree outside in a bucket of water until you're ready to decorate.
  • Before bringing it inside, cut a two-inch diagonal slice off the bottom and keep water in the stand. A diagonal cut allows your tree to "drink" more.
  • Keep your tree out of traffic areas and at least three feet from heat sources and fireplaces.
  • It's easy to assume that your lighted decorations are OK this year because they worked when you put them away last year. Not so. Inspect them carefully before use, and be especially alert for worn or cracked wires. Make sure all light sets have an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) label. Also avoid overloading outlets and extension cords.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta suggest the following safe-handling tips for your holiday eats. Additional information can be found on the Internet at www.cdc.gov.
  • Wash hands before and after preparing food, especially after handling raw meat and poultry.  
  • Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods. Clean and disinfect cutting boards and kitchen surfaces after preparing food, and use different plates and utensils for cooked food from those used for the raw foods.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods right away after coming home from the store.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave oven, not on the countertop.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Don't leave foods out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Identify a designated driver early or arrange for taxis when you gather with family, friends and coworkers to celebrate the holidays. If you're the party host, serve plenty of food and nonalcoholic beverages. Of the 41,967 traffic fatalities in 1997, 39 percent were alcohol- related, according to the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Other holiday safety tidbits gleaned from various sources are:

  • Ensure smoke detectors work and have a fire extinguisher handy. Consider giving these lifesaving devices as holiday gifts to friends and family members.
  • Don't burn wrapping paper in your fireplace. The colored inks can produce toxic fumes.
  • Being alone this time of year can be depressing. Don't let someone you know spend the holidays alone.
  • Choose age-appropriate gifts for children. Adhere to warning labels and age restrictions on packages. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has oodles of information on its Internet site, www.cpsc.gov, and lists product recalls as well.
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