Even More Practical Skills for the Holiday Host(ess) with the Mostest

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Turkey Dinner

This is an updated version of a post first published on December 17, 2018.

Around this time last year, we published a post titled 5 Practical Skills for the Holiday ‘Host(ess) with the Mostest.’ And just like last year’s fruit cake, we’re baaaack with more do-it-yourself skills to help you prepare your health for the holidays.

Change the Subject

Should the conversation around the dinner table get awkward, promote peace on Earth by quickly changing the subject to the weather, that “local sports team,” or the many benefits of personal health preparedness. Research by FEMA[i] shows that talking about preparedness increases the likelihood of others taking steps to get prepared. So, even though it may seem odd to ask your guests if they have emergency supplies set aside and plans in place, your get-together with family and friends is actually a great place and time to talk about preparedness.

Stayin’ Alive

About 350,000 cardiac arrests happen outside of hospitals each year. About 7 in 10 of those happen at home[ii]—maybe at your home in the middle of a spirited game of white elephant. Unfortunately, about half the people who experience cardiac arrest at home don’t get the help they need from bystanders before an ambulance arrives. [iii]

If one of your guests experiences cardiac arrest, the first thing you should always do is call 9-1-1. Once help is on the way, you can begin to administer “hands only” cardiopulmonary resuscitation (or CPR). If performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.

A Recipe for First Aid

The holidays often mean lots of quality time spent preparing meals in the kitchen. It’s a festive time of the year. You might be tempted to savor some of that “adult beverage” you were gifted while you dice those shallots, but this would probably be a bad idea. Be careful in the kitchen. Cooking is a leading cause of home fires and injuries, such as cuts, burns, and scalds.

If you or one of your holiday guests is cut or burned, be prepared to spring into action with a stocked first aid kit and the know-how to use it. CDC’s emergency wound care fact sheet is designed to help people take care of wounds after a disaster, but the information could also be helpful to you in a kitchen emergency.

Safe Ingredients Make for Happy Guests

Nothing will ruin a holiday party like a guest having a sudden and severe allergic reaction to something in the dip.

A food allergy occurs when a person’s immune system wrongly reacts to certain foods as if they are harmful to the body. Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts account for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions in the United States.

If you are hosting a party, ask your guests if they have any allergies. If you are unable, for whatever reason, to accommodate their needs, ask the guest or their parent to bring a dish that is safe for them to eat.

If you are someone who doesn’t have a food allergy but hosts parties regularly, learn how to read food labels and identify food allergens.

If you are someone who has a food allergy, ‘tis the season to make sure your auto-injectors and rescue medications are up-to-date and operational.

Wet. Lather. Scrub. Rinse. Dry.

Hands lathered in soap suds

Handwashing involves five simple and effective steps that you can take to reduce the spread of germs, including those that cause food poisoning. Here’s how to wash hands the right way:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

The germs that cause foodborne illnesses can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen. By washing your hands at key times and cleaning cutting boards with hot, soapy water after every use, you can guard your holiday guests against germs like salmonella.

Don’t Get “Done” In.

The term “doneness” refers to the outward appearance of food. It has nothing to do with whether a turkey, for example, has reached a safe internal temperature. An appetizing color and enticing smell are not proof that food is safe to eat. The only way to know that is to take its temperature.

Learn how to use and correctly read a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a temperature hot enough to kill germs. There are different kinds and combinations of food thermometers. Pick one that works for you.

Foodborne germs, like salmonella, can cause acute nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in most cases; and more serious symptoms in pregnant women, children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

Batteries Not Included

There are no three scarier words for parents during the gift-giving season. Batteries—like food and water—are a staple of personal health preparedness kits because they power so many of our toys, gadgets, and home health and security devices.

Know how to check and replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends that you test both devices at least once a month. Make a point to try yours before guests arrive.

CO is a colorless, odorless gas produced by fuel-burning furnaces, water heaters, gas ranges, and other appliances, which you should have serviced by a qualified technician every year.  Portable generators and burning charcoal and wood also produce CO, which can build up rapidly indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it in. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.

Where There’s SmokeHow to use a fire extinguisher. Pull the pin. Aim at the base of fire. Squeeze the lever. Sweep side to side.

Holiday decorations can increase your risk for a home fire. According to USFA, candles start more than half of home decoration fires in December. Switch to flameless candles if possible. If not, never leave a lit candle unattended, and always place them at least 12 inches away from anything flammable.

Also, learn how to use and maintain a fire extinguisher to prepare for the possibility of a home fire.  Remember the acronym PASS. It stands for:

  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.

Choked Up

Know how to help someone who is choking. Giving abdominal thrusts is a method of applying pressure to remove an obstruction, like a piece of food, from a person’s windpipe. Along with hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (or CPR), knowing how to respond in a choking emergency is a basic life-saving skill that anyone can learn and teach to others.

If you suspect a person is choking and/or see someone giving the universal sign of choking—holding their neck with one or both hands—immediately take the following steps:

  1. Ask the person if they are choking. DO NOT perform first aid if the person is coughing forcefully and is able to speak.
  2. If they are unable to speak, perform abdominal thrusts:
    • Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around the person’s waist. For a child, you may have to kneel.
    • Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the person’s navel, well below the breastbone.
    • Grasp the fist tightly with your other hand.
    • Make a quick, upward and inward thrust with your fist.
    • Check if the object was dislodged.
    • Continue thrusts until the object is dislodged or the person loses consciousness.
  3. Call 911 if the person loses consciousness. Always call 911 in a life-threatening emergency.

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.


[i] https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1409000888026-1e8abc820153a6c8cde24ce42c16e857/20140825_Preparedness_in_America_August_2014_Update_508.pdf
[ii] http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2018/01/30/CIR.0000000000000558
[iii] http://cpr.heart.org/AHAECC/CPRAndECC/AboutCPRFirstAid/CPRFactsAndStats/UCM_475748_CPR-Facts-and-Stats.jsp

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6 comments on “Even More Practical Skills for the Holiday Host(ess) with the Mostest”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Looks like that turkey was in the fryer too long. Reminds me of the one in “Christmas Vacation”—‘hey Clark, save me the gizzard’

    This blog was a great and educational read. Often time during the holidays we can forget a lot of these basic things. This post gave me good information regarding things I knew and things that I did not know. Reading this was a great reminder of some basic first aid skills. I really like how this blog included food allergies during the holidays. Having a husband and child with food allergies can sometimes make the holidays or any gathering a bit more challenging. Having dealt with this for so long it just comes natural for me ta ask about food allergies whenever we have anyone over. There was a lot of great information here.

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Page last updated: May 20, 2020