Everyone loves a good picnic or family get-together on the Fourth of July. Although the occasion is traditionally the day we celebrate the birth of our nation, it’s also the perfect mid-summer time-out to have fun with the kids, friends, and relatives.
However, Independence Day isn’t all fun and games. In the hustle and bustle of that cookout, there are a few holiday-ruining pitfalls you need to watch out for. We asked an expert exactly what dangers lurk on the Fourth — and how to avoid them.
“Sunburns are a common problem throughout the summer,” says Emergency Medicine Physician Darria Long Gillespie, MD, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. “I always advise patients not just to wear (sunscreen), but to reapply.” Gillespie says that everyone should be rubbing in that lotion or spray roughly every one and a half to two hours to avoid sunburn. “That means if you’re at the five-hour party, you’ll need to apply at least once,” she says. “Use broad spectrum sunscreen for UVA and UVB protection, and set an alarm on your phone if you need to, to make sure you do it.”
2. Food Poisoning
With all the commotion on the Fourth, passing dishes and getting distracted, there’s lots of room for food poisoning, says Gillespie. “What’s most common is using the same utensil you used on the raw burger meat on a salad, for instance,” she explains.
How can you avoid it? Two tips: “First, make sure to keep all utensils separate,” Gillespie says. “And second, make sure to keep an eye on how long food is sitting out. Food of any kind should not be sitting out for more than two hours, and if it’s more than 80 degrees, it shouldn’t be out for more than an hour.” Anything longer and you risk bacteria accumulating that could lead to food poisoning. So, get that potato salad to the fridge!
Check out The Good Stuff’s tips for food safety at your outdoor barbecue
3. Firework Mishaps
Gillespie’s advice is, if you’re not a trained professional, you shouldn’t be shooting off fireworks. “That said, I realize people will do so on the Fourth,” she explains. “However, we do see an uptick in injuries that day.”
Whether your fireworks stay on the ground or rise into the air, you have to be careful. Gillespie says to toss out any fireworks that do not work the first time you light them, and make sure you’re not sending them up near dry grass or while wearing loose clothing. “Sparklers, too,” says Gillespie. “Many people think that sparklers are safe, but they’re not. They can reach up to 2,000 degrees (Fahrenheit).” Keep them away from small children, and be careful where you wave these fun Fourth of July standbys.
4. Foot Injuries
At picnics during the summertime, kids often kick off their shoes and run barefoot while playing, leaving them prone to injury. “There’s always a chance that kids will step on glass, a rock, or something else sharp hidden in the grass,” Gillespie says. “Make sure kids are wearing the appropriate footwear, especially for the littlest feet.” A stable tennis shoe with a firm sole should prevent ankle twists and cuts.
“Drowning is a huge issue in the summer, and we often see drownings at family gatherings,” says Gillespie. “The story is usually similar: there are a lot of people around, everyone thinks an aunt is watching one of the kids, people are talking, and everyone suddenly realizes the child is missing.” To avoid a devastating accident, Gillespie says an adult should always stand beside and monitor the pool area, whether it’s being used by the kids or not. “Make sure you have a closed fence around the pool, and that no toys are in the pool area,” she says.
6. Flammable Sprays
Whether it’s sunscreen, body spray, or bug spray, high heat can set these bottles aflame, according to Gillespie. “I once had a patient who had bug spray in his pocket,” she says. “He went near the campfire and it exploded on him. These sprays are all flammable.” Your best bet? Gillespie says you shouldn’t keep sprays on your person, and you should keep them far away from open flames and grills.