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Barnes: Take precautions during the holiday season

dfox • Dec 9, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Nothing plucks the domestic heartstrings quite so sentimentally as the holiday season. Rather than being a backdrop for tradition and celebration, the home becomes a breathing organism, another beloved, benevolent family member.

It is anticipated, always, that the Christmas tree will hug the same corner or claim pride of place in the same window as it has from the beginning. Those ornaments that survived generations of small, clumsy fingers will once again find their way onto the tree. The wreaths and garlands will adorn again the mantel and the front door, and the oven will spill its delectable aromas into the air. As time marches forward, the holiday home remains blissfully, blessedly unchanged.

In the joy and anticipation of loved ones coming back together, however, it may just be that little attention is directed towards the safety precautions that are particularly relevant to that “most wonderful time of the year.” The list of holiday safety considerations is another that needs to be checked twice.

Fire safety is more important than ever from November through January, as fireplaces complement the cozy ambiance of dens and living rooms, Christmas trees sparkle with lights, and candles emit their cheery flames and spritely scents. What better time to replace the batteries in the smoke detectors and double check the condition of cords and wires?

At the same time, if children are part of the holiday mix [When aren’t they?!], make certain that unused electrical receptacles sport outlet plugs to discourage unintended science experiments. Resist, always, overloading any outlet with too many extension cords. And, yes, do ascertain that the fire extinguisher is both accessible and operable. Fire safety experts recommend replacing residential fire extinguishers after 12 years.

Fall safety is critical as well, as furnishings are shifted to make room for extra people, “kids’ tables,” and the all-important Christmas tree. Ensure that traffic areas and staircases remain clutter free and well illuminated. Spare not the shovel or the salt if winter weather comes to call. Mop up any tracked-in moisture or spills as they occur.

Food safety is commonly overlooked when preparing holiday foods. Do not place confidence in the bird’s “pop-up” button to indicate the turkey is adequately cooked. Use a reliable meat thermometer, inserted into the breast, thigh, and wing, to ensure that the internal temperature has reached at least 165 degrees. For the safest dressing, eschew stuffing, baking the savory holiday treat in a casserole dish instead.

Remember your family pets, and ensure that well-meaning guests don’t “treat” them with dangerous foods. Chocolate, grapes/raisins, garlic, onions, walnuts, and xylitol (sweetener) can be fatal to household pets. Beware, as well, fruit seeds or pits that pose both toxic and choking hazards.

Poison safety is yet another important consideration within the walls of your holiday home. Decorative plants and other items look colorful and inviting to children and animals but ingestion can lead to serious, and sometimes lethal, health outcomes.

Christmas flora are often mentioned in relation to seasonal poisonings – and rightly so. Both holly and mistletoe and all of their parts - leaves, berries, stems - are highly toxic to humans and animals. Depending on the degree of ingestion, consuming either could prove fatal. The poinsettia is known to be “mildly” toxic to people and pets, but consumption most certainly causes vomiting, diarrhea and skin irritation. Use of any of these plants for decorative purposes should be confined to locations out of the reach of young children and animals.

Lead poisoning also poses a holiday poisoning risk. Festive gatherings often mean breaking out the fancy serving pieces, such as the leaded crystal. Lead oxide is used in the glass-making process to create the beautiful crystalline effects and to enhance shine. Acidic and heated beverages and foodstuffs can leach lead toxins, so the pretty crystal should be used for ornamental purposes only.

Artificial Christmas trees and Christmas light strands may have some lead content, as lead serves as a flame retardant. For this reason, adults should adorn the tree, while children are offered other decorating duties. Cookie decorating, anyone?

At holidays and every day, keep the Poison Center’s number on your cellphone and your refrigerator door: 1-800-222-1222.

Poisoning information sources:

• The Illinois Poison Center

• The North Carolina Poison Center

• The Pet Poison Hotline

• Web MD

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

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