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Tips For A Safe Memorial Day Weekend

For most people in the U.S., Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many people participate in picnics, barbecues and parties, as well as trips to beaches, lakes and pools.

While this holiday weekend is an opportunity to enjoy recreational time with friends and family, it also presents several unique health and safety risks. Here are tips to make your Memorial Day Weekend safer this year.

1. Drive safely.

This year more than 37 million Americans are expected to drive at least 50 miles from home over Memorial Day weekend. With so many vehicles on the road, it’s important for drivers to use extra caution -- especially considering that, of all holiday weekends, Memorial Day weekend has the highest number of traffic fatalities.

There are several simple steps drivers can take to keep everyone safe. Make sure everyone in the vehicle is wearing their seatbelt (and young children are correctly buckled into their car seats) before you start driving. Don’t ever drink and drive. Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. Obey the speed limit. And make sure you’re well rested, since drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

2. Practice water safety.

Since Memorial Day weekend activities are often held near bodies of water, it’s important to be vigilant about water safety.

Designate an adult to supervise children at all times while they’re in the water -- and make sure that adult is not impaired by alcohol or distracted by a cell phone, book, or any other diversions.

Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket when they’re engaging in boating, water skiing or other water-related activities. And ensure that young or inexperienced swimmers are wearing life jackets any time they are in or around the water. Lastly, never dive into water head-first if you don’t know how deep the water is.

3. Protect from heat-related injuries and illnesses.

Temperatures begin to rise in most of the U.S. in the late spring, which means Memorial Day weekend can pose the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries. There are several ways to prevent these health risks.

Before you go outside, apply sunscreen that’s at least SPF 15. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after sweating, showering or swimming. Hats, sunglasses and lightweight fabrics can also protect from the sun’s harmful U.V. rays. 

Make sure everyone drinks plenty of water -- especially young children and the elderly, since they’re most prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion. Also, try to spend the hottest part of the day indoors or in the shade.

4. Follow food safety guidelines.

Picnics and barbecues are a highlight of many Memorial Day weekend gatherings -- but they can also be a source of foodborne illnesses if food is not properly stored and prepared.

There are several steps you can take to prevent foodborne illnesses. First, make sure cooking surfaces are disinfected and everyone washes their hands before eating.

Next, pay attention to temperatures. Perishable food should be stored at a temperature no higher than 40 degrees F (that includes common condiments, like mayonnaise!). And when cooking meat, always use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is cooked to the appropriate temperature. (Here’s a helpful chart with recommended cooking temperatures.)

Also, keep track of how long food has been sitting out. Perishable food should be refrigerated after it’s been out for two hours. If the temperature is 90 degrees F or higher, food should be refrigerated after one hour.

5. Practice fire safety.

If your Memorial Day weekend activities involve a grill, fire pit, campfire or other heat sources, make sure you adhere to fire safety guidelines.

Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of small children. Make sure the area around the fire is clear of branches and other flammable objects. Keep a hose or bucket of water nearby so you can douse the fire if it gets out of hand. Never leave a fire or hot grill unattended. And make sure to turn off the grill or put out the fire completely before you leave the area. If an accident does happen, make sure you know what to do to treat a burn and seek care if necessary.

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