By Ashley Antonelli, contributing editor
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a joyful time to gather with family and friends and enjoy some of our favorite holiday foods. But it turns out Thanksgiving comes with a whole host of health hazards, ranging from a heightened potential for food-borne illnesses to what's been identified as "Holiday Heart Syndrome."
Luckily, experts have offered tips for avoiding these hazards, and we've rounded them up just in time for the holiday season. Let's take a closer look.
The hazards of Thanksgiving
Unfortunately, many of the health hazards related to Thanksgiving are tied to what many of us look forward to most: Thanksgiving dinner.
This year, the biggest threat to your Thanksgiving meal is a salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey. As of Nov. 5, a total of 63 people in 25 states have been hospitalized because of the outbreak, and one person has died, according to CDC. Overall, the outbreak has sickened 164 people.
CDC has linked several raw turkey products to the outbreak, including turkey patties and ground turkey. The outbreak also has affected raw turkey pet food and live turkeys, which could indicate the contamination is widespread in the turkey industry.
Further, FDA on Tuesday warned that consumers in the United States should avoid all romaine lettuce products as it investigates an E. coli outbreak that's linked to the lettuce. CDC said 32 people in 11 states have been sickened so far, including 13 who were hospitalized. CDC said it is still working to learn more about the source and scope of the outbreak.
But food poisoning is not the only health hazard associated with Thanksgiving. Experts have noted that indulging in too many Thanksgiving treats can stretch our stomachs, cause our digestive systems to drain energy from the rest of our bodies, disrupt our sleep, spike our blood sugar, and make our hearts work harder to pump blood to our digestive systems.
And speaking of our hearts, a study published in the American Heart Journal in 1978 found overindulging in alcohol at a holiday meal can lead to something known as "Holiday Heart Syndrome"—a disruption of our regular heart rhythms—particularly in individuals who are obese or older.
Further, research has found that those of us who spend Thanksgiving watching our favorite football teams could be more likely to have a heart attack. According to the study, cheering for a losing football team was associated with a 15% increase in circulatory deaths among men and a 27% increase among women—a harrowing fact for me to learn before I head out on a trip to attend my favorite team's Thanksgiving-day game.
And while we're on the subject of traveling, data has shown that injuries and deaths from car crashes tend to spike over the holiday weekend. There's also a greater chance of house fires around Thanksgiving, with deep-frying turkeys often being the cause.
How to stay safe this holiday
Thankfully, experts have offered a wide range of tips for warding off holiday health hazards, starting with some food safety guidance.
When it comes to the turkey-linked salmonella outbreak, proper hygiene is the key to success. CDC recommends individuals wash their hands before and after eating and preparing food, as well as after having contact with animals, using the restroom, or changing diapers.
CDC said also individuals should be careful to wash all surfaces and utensils that have contact with raw turkey, and to thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, microwave, or a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. And of course, you'll want to make sure you cook your turkey to the appropriate temperature, which is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for most raw and reheated turkey products.
To avoid disturbing your digestive system on Thanksgiving, experts recommend being mindful of overeating (which, admittedly, is easier said than done). To help, experts recommend filling half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter with skinless turkey breast, and a quarter with starchy foods. They also suggest sticking to one serving of dessert, and being careful not to snack while you're cooking or cleaning up the meal. Further, experts suggest individuals take part in some type of physical activity on Thanksgiving, such as a local Turkey Trot.
As far as travel safety, experts recommend ensuring you have a sober driver who remains focused on the road. To prevent house fires on Thanksgiving, experts recommend being careful to not leave food cooking on a stovetop unattended, to use timers to keep track of cooking times, to keep flammable items like oven mitts and wooden utensils away from cooking areas, to secure loose clothing while cooking, to avoid drinking alcohol while cooking, and to keep children away from cooking areas.
And perhaps most importantly, experts say we should take some time to destress throughout the holiday season, whether that be by revamping your holiday routine, avoiding social media and emails, or taking a vacation.
However you choose to spend your Thanksgiving, we hope you have a safe and happy one.
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