FEATURE | Posted June 26, 2014

Celebrating Fourth of July safely

Take precautions with fireworks and food

Photograph of fireworks display © iStockphoto
Use precautions to have a safe holiday.

Fireworks and food are a central part of Americans' celebration of the Fourth of July holiday, but they also can be health hazards without proper precautions.

Experts from UC Davis Health System provide some tips on how to enjoy these traditional holiday pastimes while safeguarding against illness and injuries.

Fireworks safety

Protection from noise damage

The UC Davis Audiology Clinic encourages the use of ear protection to guard against hearing injuries.

"The explosion from a single firecracker at close range can cause permanent hearing damage in an instant," Ivory said. "We encourage people to leave the fireworks to the professionals and to use earplugs when attending fireworks celebrations."

Loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Any noise above 85 dB is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB.

Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, are available at local pharmacies. They allow people to still hear music and conversations around them while adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.

Young girl wearing ear plugs to protect her hearing © iStockphoto
Be sure to protect your family's hearing during fireworks displays with ear plugs.

The Audiology Clinic encourages people to protect their hearing while participating in other loud summer activities, such as concerts, stock car races, using lawn mowers and other power equipment, shooting practice and power boating. The clinic also urges people to protect their hearing when listening to MP3 players and other electronic devices with earbuds and headphones.

Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Ten million Americans already have suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise, and 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels every day. Children are the most vulnerable.

"Noise-induced hearing loss can be life-changing, but it also is highly preventable," said Ivory.

Regular hearing checks are important for detecting hearing loss early, Ivory said, and for receiving appropriate help to minimize the effect that unaddressed hearing loss can have on one's quality of life.

Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk of personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, reduced income and diminished psychological and overall health.

Here are some warning signs of hearing damage:

  • Pain in the ears after leaving a noisy area
  • Ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the ears immediately after exposure to noise
  • Difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise (One can hear people talk, but not understand them.)

Sparklers must be used with caution © UC Regents
Use extreme caution when playing with fireworks.

Burn risks and fire safety

Fireworks also present a risk of burns, the most common cause of injury during the summer months, and especially in July. Fire and burns are the third-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related deaths among children 14 and under.

In 2012, 60 percent of all fireworks injuries occurred during the month surrounding July 4. About 10,000 people suffer fireworks injuries every year, including 4,000 children ages 14 and under. Burns resulting from improper use of sparklers and illegal fireworks usually involve the hands, face, arms and chest areas.

The best way to protect one's family is not to use fireworks at home. The Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center recommends attending public fireworks displays and leaving the lighting to professionals.

The Burn Center and UC Davis Health System's Fire Prevention Office urge people who decide to purchase legal fireworks to take these safety steps:

  • Buy only state fire marshal-approved (safe and sane) fireworks. They must have the state fire marshal's seal and can be purchased only at licensed fireworks stands.
  • Do not ever use homemade fireworks of illegal explosives: They can harm and even kill you! Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
  • Use fireworks outdoors only, and never near dry vegetation or other flammable materials.
  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks. Parents may not realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals. Parents are liable for damage or injuries their children cause with fireworks.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
  • Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap. After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding to prevent a trash fire.
  • Never try to relight or handle a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak them with water and throw them away.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.

Food safety

Summer picnics and cookouts are a common source of food poisoning. Classic symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and flu-like symptoms. Small children, the elderly and pregnant women are at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses.

To help prevent microorganisms from proliferating in the picnic basket, Wendi Vela, a registered dietitian at UC Davis Medical Center, offers the following tips to keep foods safe:

Family having outdoor picnic © iStockphoto
Remember to keep foods at proper temperatures before serving.

  • Always start with clean surfaces and clean hands when preparing food. Plan ahead and bring moist, disposable towelettes in case running water is unavailable for handwashing.
  • Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods should be kept in the refrigerator until it is time to leave. For hot foods, time the cooking with departure and transfer it directly from the oven to the car. Eat cold and hot foods within two hours (one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees F). Packing foods that need cooling, like casseroles or pasta salads, in small containers helps them chill faster, but also enables them to be set out and eaten as they are needed.
  • Transport foods to be kept cold in an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs. Carefully pack the cooler to avoid cross contamination with raw meat, poultry or seafood and the prepared/cooked foods that are ready to eat, such as fruits and vegetables. Put the cooler in the air-conditioned car rather than in the hot trunk. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade and cover with towels or blankets. Use a separate cooler for cold drinks to avoid frequent opening and closing of the one containing perishable items.
  • Bring plenty of supplies. Never use the same plates or utensils for cooked foods that were used for raw foods.
  • When the party's over, perishable food that has been left outside for longer than one hour in hot weather should be thrown away.

UC Davis Medical Center is a comprehensive academic medical center where clinical practice, teaching and research converge to advance human health. Centers of excellence include the National Cancer Institute-designated UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center; the region's only level 1 pediatric and adult trauma centers; the UC Davis MIND Institute, devoted to finding treatments and cures for neurodevelopmental disorders; and the UC Davis Children's Hospital. The medical center serves a 33-county, 65,000-square-mile area that stretches north to the Oregon border and east to Nevada. It further extends its reach through the award-winning telemedicine program, which gives remote, medically underserved communities throughout California unprecedented access to specialty and subspecialty care. For more information, visit medicalcenter.ucdavis.edu.