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Staying safe from stress, foodborne illness and other holiday hazards

Festivities can take a nosedive if physical or emotional health problems are uninvited guests, so arm yourself with these useful tips

It all looks delicious, but leaving food out too long can mean tummy trouble and worse.
It all looks delicious, but leaving food out too long can mean tummy trouble and worse.Read moremonkeybusinessimages / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The holidays are upon us! With all the festivities, it’s important we manage its many facets— whether it’s monitoring our own and others' mental health, food safety, or alcohol consumption. Here are some tips to make this a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season as we enter the final stretch.

Mental health

Suicide rates are on the rise, and despite the abundance of holiday cheer, it doesn’t necessarily get any better around the holidays especially since it can feel stressful at times. Be sure to keep an eye on your friends and loved ones. Signs of suicidality include change in behaviors, unusual sleeping patterns, extreme mood fluctuations, and expressing interest in dying.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone—stay there and call 911.

Food safety

In the profound words of one of my co-workers, Michelle, “If you have to call poison control before serving your holiday meal, that could be a problem.” During the holiday season, people may have questions about food prep and food safety. Although one could argue “if in doubt, throw it out,” there are some great resources for food safety information. If you prefer to call for information, you can dial 1-888-SAFE FOOD (1-888-723-3366) for general food safety, or 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) for guidance on meat/poultry.

For those who have already ingested undercooked or spoiled food, symptoms can begin as early as 30 minutes and up to 24 hours after ingestion. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, chills and fever, in any combination. Observe for symptoms, which may or may not occur. Food poisoning usually can be managed at home, so contact Poison Control or your doctor for questions . Get medical attention if fluids are not tolerated, symptoms are severe, or symptoms persist past 24 hours.

Alcohol consumption

Each year, an average of 300 people die in alcohol-related car crashes during the week between Christmas and New Year’s in the U.S. Many underestimate the effects of alcohol, specifically on our driving skills. However, as little as a single drink can start to have negative effects. How much is too much when it comes to drinking and driving? It’s a DUI for a non-commercial driver above the age of 21 when one’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or greater in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to law enforcement. For a female weighing 120 pounds that could mean two drinks; while it could be three drinks for a male. (One drink = 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 12 ounces of beer, or five ounces of wine).

This information does not account for many factors that can affect intoxication—amount of sleep, last meal, tolerance to alcohol, potency of the drinks, and time between ingestion of drinks. The combination of alcohol with medication can make even one drink dangerous. Our advice is if you drink, don’t drive. Don’t put your life or the lives of others in jeopardy.

Keep your holidays full of cheer, choose safety for yourself and others. For those who are overstressed or suicidal, reach out for help. There are many available resources – you can call us for direction 1-800-222-1222, visit our website for information, and follow-us on Facebook.

When tasked with making the holiday meal, check cooking times and storage information which can often be found on packaging. Generally, cooked food should not be left out longer than two hours. Keep food hotline numbers available. If someone does develop symptoms, call Poison Control or your doctor for treatment recommendations. Once you have even one drink, do not get behind the wheel. There are many options for safe transport: assign designated drivers, take Uber or Lyft, or make arrangements to stay over.

Enjoy and remember the Poison Control Center don’t take the holidays off—so if you need us—we’re here!

Marguerite A. Pacholski, RN, BSN, is a specialist in poison information in the Poison Control Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.