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Prairie Fare: Don’t Let Your Holidays Become Hazardous

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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During the holiday season, houses can be filled with potential safety issues for pets and children.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I counted dogs one evening when I returned from the grocery store, and I was one short of the three dachshunds we have. Our dog Jake had sneaked out of his area and was on the loose in the house.

I looked in all the usual hiding spots and then went upstairs. When I walked by my closet, I noted a half dozen miniature candy bar wrappers scattered on the floor. Jake was lying on his back looking guilty and somewhat apologetic.

He had extracted the candy bag from a bag of gifts I was hiding. I am not sure how he managed to remove the wrappers from the tiny treats that were intended for use in Christmas cookies.

In fact, chocolate is not something you want to feed your dogs. Chocolate can be toxic in high doses for dogs. I assessed the amount he ate and decided he didn’t need a trip to the veterinarian based on his weight and the amount he had eaten. I have experience with dogs and chocolate because Jake stole a half a bag of chocolate chips from the pantry a couple of years ago and had to go to the emergency veterinarian.

One of us should have learned from the experience.

During the holiday season, houses can be filled with potential safety issues for pets and children. Ornaments and other holiday decorations can pose choking hazards for young children, so holidays are times that require extra supervision or careful placement out of reach.

If you have children of different ages receiving toys, remember that toys are age-specific and supervision is needed as everyone explores his or her new toys. Sometimes the packaging may include small pieces that could pose choking hazards.

Candles and Christmas trees can pose fire hazards. Matches, lighters and candles need to be kept away from children. Candles should be extinguished if no one is in the room.

Fresh Christmas trees can become dry and pose a fire issue. Be sure to keep the tree well-watered and away from a fireplace or heat sources. Be sure to unplug the lights on the tree when you leave or go to bed.

Holidays usually involve special foods and often cooking for groups of people. However, many people are not accustomed to cooking for larger groups. Remember the rule: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use slow cookers as warming units for “hot foods” and nest the bowls of “cold food” in ice to maintain their temperature.

When preparing holiday treats, avoid tasting raw cookie dough, tempting as it is. If you decide to make your own eggnog or custard-style ice cream during the holidays, be sure that you use a recipe that heats the eggs to 160 degrees to kill any salmonella that might be present. Store-purchased eggnog uses pasteurized eggs.

Characterized by fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, salmonellosis can put a damper on holiday festivities. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after food preparation.

Don’t double-dip the tasting spoon because no one enjoys saliva as a “secret ingredient.” Be sure to use a food thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked food. You can learn more about cooking for groups from this online handout at

When you set up a buffet, keep hot liquids, such as self-serve pots of hot cider, away from the edges of counters. Children might pull them off the edge.

If you decide to pop a cork of champagne on New Year’s Eve, be sure to guard your eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eye injuries can occur if you do not follow some safety rules. Be sure to chill the sparkling wine to about 45 F, don’t shake the bottle and hold it at a 45-degree angle away from you and any bystanders. Put a towel over the top and hang onto the cork.

The holidays can be a stressful time, with too many things to do and not enough time to accomplish everything. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk or put on some music and take a break. No one will remember if you only made five kinds of treats instead of eight. Focus on the things that matter.

Sit down and have a cup of holiday spiced tea. This recipe also makes a nice Christmas gift. You can find more beverage mix recipes at

Spiced Tea Mix

1 1/2 c. orange breakfast drink (such as Tang)

3/4 c. ice tea mix (unsweetened)

1 1/2 c. white sugar

3 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. ground cloves

Mix contents in a large bowl. Store mixture in an airtight, quart-sized container. For each serving, place 1 cup of boiling water in a mug and stir in 1 tablespoon of mix (or start with less and adjust to your personal taste).

Makes 64 servings. Each serving has 60 calories, 0 gram (g) of fat, 10 g of carbohydrate, 0 g of fiber and 0 milligrams of sodium.

For more information, check out the Prairie Fare blog at

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – December 13, 2012

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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