6 Holiday Safety Hazards

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Holiday Cooking

Food plays a major part in holiday celebrations, so it's not surprising that unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires in the United States, according to the NFPA. Stay in the kitchen while you're frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove. Keep anything that can catch fire (oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, towels, etc.) away from your stovetop, including your apron or any long-sleeved shirt. Utilize the back burners of your stove as much as possible so that no spills will fall directly on you or anyone near you. When it comes to keeping little ones protected from burns, keep them out of the kitchen while you're cooking. Create a 3-foot kid-free zone around the stove, or put up a safety gate. If your kids are old enough, give them kitchen chores that won't require them to be near the stove or oven, such as mixing ingredients, setting the table, or arranging veggies on a tray.

The Fireplace

Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and clean the fireplace and chimney annually -- maintenance is crucial to prevent creosote buildups and potential fires. "After it has been inspected, parents can enjoy their fireplace so long as it has a sturdy metal fireplace screen in front of any open flame," Holtzman says. "Consider putting a safety gate in the doorway to the room with a fireplace or installing a hearth gate around the area."

Make sure there are no greens, paper, or other d?cor near or inside the fireplace, and always make sure that the flue is open. Be careful with fire salts: The colored flames they produce are pretty, but the salts contain heavy metals that cause intense gastrointestinal irritation when ingested, so keep them out of the reach of children. Of course, never leave your fire unattended, especially with kids in the same room. Extinguish the fire fully before leaving the house or going to bed, and allow ashes to cool before removing them. Dispose ashes in a tightly covered metal container, and place it outdoors, at least 10 feet from the home and any other nearby buildings.

Holiday Flowers and Plants

It's a popular misconception that poinsettias are poisonous, but they're not as toxic as people once believed. "It is unlikely that ingestion would cause death, although it may cause some gastric irritation and burning in the mouth," Holtzman notes. Some other beautiful holiday plants that decorate our homes are potentially poisonous, however. These include mistletoe, holly, Christmas rose, and Jerusalem cherry. Still, one can never been too careful when displaying flowers and plants. "Keep them safely out of reach of young children and pets, or avoid using them altogether," Holtzman says.

Holiday Wrapping and Cards

Most wrapping paper and ribbons are nontoxic, but certain foils and colored gift wraps might contain lead, so it's best not to let babies chew on them. "After opening presents, immediately discard gift wrap, plastic bags, foil papers, tape, gift bags, and ribbons, as they can all pose strangulation, suffocation, and choking hazards for young children or cause a fire if near a flame," Holtzman says. Another danger you might not think about are musical holiday cards, which contain button batteries (also found in some toys, remote controls, flameless candles, and other gadgets). "When swallowed, these coin-size lithium batteries can get stuck in the esophagus," Holtzman explains. "The saliva triggers an electric current that causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours. The button batteries in musical greeting cards are not secured in a locked compartment, and a young child can easily pull them out and ingest them." If your child does ingest one, call 911 and take him to the emergency room immediately.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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