As the holidays approach, you are sure to hear about the ways you can keep a healthy diet while enjoying traditions centered on food or maybe some tips and tricks to help you balance out those extra calories with physical activity.

There is no doubt that the holiday season brings many hazards to our health. Spikes in emergency medical events such as injuries, burns and food poisonings that occur around the holidays are evidence of those risks.

Some of our most beloved holiday traditions may be harmful to our health, but by taking some basic precautions, you can safely enjoy the season with your friends and family.

Most of us are at risk for the top holiday health hazard – travel. One in three Americans travel over the holidays, packing the roads, runways and rails all across the country. With over 100 million drivers on the roads, it is no surprise that injuries from travel-related accidents increase during this season.

Stay safe while you travel by planning ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination and remember to consider weather and congestion-related delays. Prepare your vehicle and travel with an emergency preparedness kit to protect yourself from winter conditions. Always designate a sober driver and put away distracting devices so everyone makes it home safe.

We all hope this time of year is warm and bright, but beware of the next health hazard – fire. Nearly 47,000 fires occur during the holiday season each year and there are many hazards now that increase the risk of fire in your home.

Decorate safely by keeping combustible items at least 3 feet away from fireplaces, candles, radiators, heat vents and portable heaters. Check strands of lights for exposed wires, limit the number of items plugged into a single socket and turn off all lights and electronic decorations when you go to bed or leave home.

The deadliest and most common fires begin with the Christmas tree. Make sure your artificial tree is marked as flame retardant and your real tree has plenty of water. Install and routinely check smoke alarms in your home to protect you and your family from blazes.

Overindulging on holiday meals can leave us feeling bloated and sleepy, but the third holiday health hazard is far more unpleasant and dangerous – food poisoning. Incidents of foodborne illness are at their highest in the days following major holidays.

Keep your meals delicious and safe by following basic food safety practices. Wash your hands often when handling food. Avoid cross contamination by keeping raw meat separate from other foods. Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for uncooked and cooked items. Use a thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours and consume or freeze leftovers within three to four days. Never taste a food to determine if it has spoiled.

Keep holiday hazards from becoming serious health risks by seeking help immediately. Do not put off a visit to the doctor about a health concern until after the holidays.

Stay safe and enjoy the holiday season!

For more information about safe travel, fire safety and food safety, check out information on U.S. Department of Transportation, National Fire Protection Association, American Red Cross, National Safety Council and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

Dee Kleier is the Franklin County Purdue Extension educator in health and human sciences and community development.

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