Holiday Prep Safety Tips

How to avoid Salmonella bacteria from turkey, toxic holiday decorating berries and more


Holidays are exciting yet hectic times. Some festive items or products, like seasonal plants and evergreens, heirloom ornaments, and alcoholic beverages are potentially dangerous for young children. These safety tips can help keep the holidays safe and joyful.

Food Preparations

  • Prepare as much of the holiday meals and/or party foods as far in advance as possible.
  • Thaw turkey and other meats in the refrigerator in the original wrapper for 3 or 4 days. If faster thawing is needed, immerse in cold water and change the water every 60 minutes.
  • DO NOT use turkeys that have been defrosted and refrozen.
  • Salmonella bacteria are often present in turkey, even when frozen. Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after working with raw meats to reduce the chances of spreading the bacteria to uncooked foods.
  • Cook foods thoroughly to a temperature above 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove any stuffing from the turkey before refrigerating leftover meat.
  • Gravy and broth should be stored separately, too.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Do not leave foods out after eating. Promptly cover and refrigerate them. There are bacteria that grow well in cooked foods left sitting out at room temperature.

The Butterball Turkey Hotline number is available November and December for general preparation and cooking tips at: 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-837-2255). You can also visit their website


Plants and Decorations

  • Mistletoe berries, Holly berries, the fruit of Jerusalem cherry, the leaves and twigs of Boxwood and all parts of Yew plants can be poisonous to humans and animals. Nandina berries are a nontoxic alternative. Contrary to folklore, Poinsettias are not considered a dangerous plant.
  • Christmas tree preservatives are usually not toxic. Check the label for special ingredients and warnings.
  • The use of old ornaments creates risks for cuts from broken glass and they may be decorated with harmful lead paints.
  • Lead can be found in some tree light wires. Wash hands before and after handling tree lights.
  • Spray-on snow, once dried, is non-toxic.
  • Icicles or tinsel can be a choking hazard if swallowed.
  • Angel hair is finely spun glass which can cause cuts or irritation when handled or swallowed


Planning for Guests

  • When relatives and friends come to visit, be sure their medications are put away. Lock medicines in a suitcase, or, if in a purse, place the purse out of reach. NEVER leave medications on a nightstand. A child might wander into the room at any time and easily reach them.
  • Designate a locked room where relatives and guests can place their coats and purses that may contain medications.
  • Remove and empty partially filled glasses of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can cause serious illness to small children.
  • Empty ash trays often, and when the party is over, clean them. Ingesting a few cigarette butts can send a child to the hospital.
  • Make sure small button batteries are not available to children. One swallowed battery can injure a child.

Call Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for questions about holiday safety tips.

About The Carolinas Poison Center

The Carolinas Poison Center is designated as the official state poison center for North Carolina. We are a not-for-profit telephone resource center of poisoning information, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by registered nurses (Specialists in Poison Information) who are uniquely trained to provide diagnostic and treatment advice for acute and chronic poisonings to the public and healthcare providers. Board-certified medical toxicologists and pharmacists provide backup for the Specialists and are available for consultations 24 hours a day. All of our services are given at no charge to the caller.

How We Are Funded
The Carolinas Poison Center receives funding through state and federal grants and from individual donations. If you would like to support the important work that we do, please visit our Donations page. We thank you for your generosity.