Take steps to keep kids healthy for the holidays

December 02, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

The night before Thanksgiving I was covering the crust of my pecan pies with foil as a little hand reached up and over the counter.

"Mmmm ... those nuts look good, Mommy. Can I have one?"

I shook my head and explained that there was raw egg in the mixture.

"I won't eat the sauce. I'll just eat the nut," she said with a little pout.

Unfortunately, she was about two minutes late. I would have saved her a couple of pecans had I known she would ask for them. (What 6-year-old asks for pecans, anyway?)

After explaining that the nuts were already covered in the "sauce," I gave her a piece of cheese and a cup of milk.


"You'll have to wait until the pecans are baked in the pie, sweetheart."

I didn't want her getting sick, especially for the holiday.

Over the next several weeks, parents and caregivers need to be especially vigilant about what their children are eating and drinking, says Debra Holtzman, author of "The Safe Baby: A Do-it-yourself Guide to Home Safety."

Each year, an estimated 76 million Americans will acquire food-borne illnesses and 5,000 of those will die, Holtzman says. Children, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk.

Symptoms, which can include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, blood in the stool, headache, vomiting and severe exhaustion, might occur as early as half an hour after eating or might take several days or even weeks to appear, Holtzman says.

Parties and celebrations in December offer an abundance of food and drink. Menus should be carefully planned and children should be closely supervised to ensure their safety.

Here are some suggestions from Holtzman on what to serve - or not to serve - at a holiday party.

Eggnog: Use only pasteurized, not raw, eggs in homemade recipes. Or, opt for buying a carton of pasteurized eggnog.

Pies: Custard-type pies, such as lemon meringue or banana cream, need to be refrigerated. Bacteria can grow in pies left at room temperature.

Candy: Keep candy canes out of reach of small children. Hard candy can be a potential choking risk for little ones.

Cookie dough: Wait until it is baked to try a sample. Raw eggs can contain salmonella, which can lead to harmful food-borne illnesses.

Apple cider: Unpasteurized varieties should be boiled for a minute to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present. The best choice is a pasteurized product.

Caesar salad: When making a dressing for Caesar salad, don't use raw eggs. Use pasteurized ones.

Perishable foods: Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. If left at room temperature for longer periods, food can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Alcohol: Even small amounts can be dangerous to children. Spiked punch and eggnog should be kept out of reach of children. Empty and partially empty cups should be discarded immediately so thirsty toddlers aren't tempted to reach for abandoned cups.

Chocolate: Also remember to be kind to your pets this holiday season. Teach children that even small amounts of chocolate can be fatal to animals. Baker's chocolate (pure unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder) is the most dangerous, Holtzman says.

"During holiday get-togethers it's really important that children are properly supervised," she says.

If you are the host, enlist a friend or hire a baby sitter to watch the children while you attend to your guests. That way, everyone will have a safe, happy holiday.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

The Herald-Mail Articles