We scurry around so during the holidays. Still, we all should stop and take a minute to look past the shopping, the gifts and the festivities to more mundane concerns, like keeping our homes safe for ourselves and our guests.

It's your party:

Bacteria are often present in raw foods. For the holiday feasting, be sure to fully cook meats and poultry and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits. Keep hot liquids and foods away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure your children do the same. Foods requiring refrigeration should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Tidy, not tardy:

Clean up immediately after a party or meal. A toddler could rise early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco. (Remember that the homes you visit may not be child-proofed. Keep an eye out for danger spots.) Remove all wrapping paper, bags, ribbons and bows from tree and fireplace areas after the gifts are opened. These items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child or can cause a fire if they're near a flame.

Responsibly resplendent:

Inspect Christmas lights and extension cords left over from last year, and replace any that are fraying or damaged. Pay special attention to outdoor lights, cords or decorations that may have been beaten up by winter weather or chewed by animals.

If young children will be around, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, and keep items with small parts out of reach. Reject trimmings that look like candy or food, so kids aren't tempted to eat them.

Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair." Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.

Hang time:

If you're putting decorations up in the trees outside or on the gutters of your house, you're bound to use a ladder. Before you begin, choose a location well away from all power lines. Place the ladder on level ground and open it completely, making sure all locks are engaged. Use the 4-to-1 rule for extension ladders: For each 4 feet of distance between the ground and the upper point of contact (such as the wall or roof), move the ladder's base out one foot. Always face the ladder when climbing, and wear slip-resistant shoes.

Faux facts:

If you're considering an artificial tree, look for the "fire resistant" label, which means the tree has been treated with a chemical that will make it resist burning. But that doesn't mean the tree can't, or won't, catch fire. Never use electric lights on metallic trees - use spotlights for illumination. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and someone touching a branch could be electrocuted.

Fresh greens only:

When buying real trees, boughs or wreaths, inspect the needles. If they're getting brown or break easily, the greenery poses greater fire risk. Look for needles that spring back into shape.

Tree line:

Don't position that evergreen close to a heat source, including a fireplace or vent. The heat can dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Don't put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree's stand filled with water at all times. And never use live candles to decorate the tree.

Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.