Memorial Day is just around the corner and the summer-welcoming holiday can be a lot of fun for the whole family. There are cookouts and pool parties and other activities outdoors that people enjoy as the weather turns the corner for warmer days and longer nights.
But with activities centering on the outdoors including swimming, cooking with fire, and perhaps even using fireworks, it is important to remember a few tips to stay safe this holiday weekend.
One of the main focuses of summertime holiday celebrations and get-togethers is cooking on the grill in the wide-open freedom under the sun or the stars. But when safety is placed on the back burner then all the fun of the day can go out like cheap charcoal.
Emergency Medical Director at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock, Ross Tobleman, MD, pointed out some helpful things to keep in mind when celebrating the holiday with friends and family.
“If you’re hosting a barbecue bash with guests, before lighting your briquettes or firing up the grill, be sure to have plenty of water close by,” Dr. Tobleman said. “Place a hose or bucket of water that is close-by your grill and inspect the bucket and hose to make sure they will be working properly if the need to use them arises.”
“Make sure your grill is very far from flammable objects like outdoor walls, overhangs, or patio railings. Even some aerosolized sunscreens have recently made the news for being dangerously flammable. So, be mindful,” Dr Tobleman said.
Hamburgers and hot dogs cooked over an open flame is a big part of summer holiday gatherings, but if food is not handled properly both before and after cooking then that Memorial Day barbecue could be short-lived.
Instead, avoid food borne illnesses by following a few simple guidelines. Baylor Scott & White – Round Rock Executive Chef DyRell Dilorenzo offers the following tips:
- Cross-contamination is a leading factor in food borne illness. Therefore, we suggest you wash your hands before handling food and use clean utensils and containers. Dirty hands, utensils, containers and any work surfaces can contaminate food with harmful bacteria and viruses.
- Do not prepare foods more than one day before your picnic unless it is to be frozen. Cooking foods in advance allows for more opportunities for bacteria to grow. If you cook foods ahead follow HACCP guidelines for proper cooling a reheating of the food to avoid foodborne illness.
- Cook foods to 165 for minimum 15 seconds, Cool to 70 degrees within 2 hours and from 70 to 41(or below) within an additional 4 hours. To Reheat, heat item to 165 for at least 15 seconds and hold hot food at 135 or higher for no longer than 4 hours.
- Mayonnaise-based foods need to be kept cold. Mayonnaise alone is too acidic for bacteria to grow i. However, when mayonnaise is mixed with other foods, (particularly those that have been handled a lot and/or are protein foods), bacteria can grow if this mixture is kept too warm.
- Wash your hands often. Pack sanitizing towelettes or anti-bacterial gels if you think your picnic site might not have hand-washing facilities.
Mosquitoes, Zika Virus, and other Insects
Let’s face it. There are few things more annoying at a barbecue or outdoor gathering than mosquitoes constantly biting and ruining an otherwise good time. Wasps, bees and ants can pose problems too, but can usually be avoided with some common sense. Mosquitoes, however, seem to be persistent and with the arrival of the harmful Zika virus they should be avoided as much as possible.
Pregnant women should especially avoid being bitten by mosquitoes due to the possibility of birth defects associated with the Zika virus. But anyone can show symptoms from the virus including a fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Lyme disease is also a dangerous bacteria-based disease transmitted by tick bites. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache and fatigue as well as the characteristic bullseye rash at the site of the bite, according to the CDC. Anyone spending time outdoors as well as pets should be checked regularly for ticks or the signs of tick bites.
Heat Exhaustion and Sun Poisoning
Swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing are just some of the activities that people enjoy outdoors during summer holiday gatherings. And anyone who has left their sunscreen at home can tell you that a day on the lake can turn into a following few days of agony.
With higher temperatures and more sunshine, Dr. Tobleman offers the following advice for being outdoors for long periods of time:
- Avoid tea, coffee, soda and alcohol as these can lead to dehydration.
- Wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing in light colors.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses and using an umbrella.
- Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.
- Take frequent drink breaks and mist yourself and kids to avoid becoming overheated.
When you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period it is important to protect your eyes, your skin and even your lips from the harmful UV ray of the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends applying one ounce of sunscreen on exposed areas 30 minutes before going outside and to reapply every two hours or more often if you are sweating. They suggest choosing a sunscreen that is labeled as broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher as well as water resistant. Lip balm with at least an SPF of 15 is recommended to protect the lips from sunburn.
Driving Safely and Alcohol
Dr. Tobleman points out that it is important to set good examples for children when it comes to mixing alcohol and driving.
“Set a good example and talk to your kids–especially teenagers–about alcohol and the serious dangers of drinking and driving,” Dr. Tobleman said. “Friends don’t let friends or family drive drunk. Stop friends or family that may have been drinking and are planning to drive.”