Tips to Keep People and Pets Healthy AND Happy This Season

Published on November 20, 2023

Experts from the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment offer easy ways to keep your family healthy over the holidays

‘Tis the season! This is the time of year when many are traveling, getting together, sharing food, snuggling pets and spending time with loved ones. Experts from the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) offer these tips to keep your loved ones healthy this holiday season!

Get Vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from infection and severe illness this season and beyond. It's important to be vaccinated against seasonal illnesses, including flu and COVID-19, before holiday gatherings. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for both the annual flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 vaccine. Most people can receive these vaccines for free from their healthcare provider or at local pharmacies.

All vaccines are safe and effective. Most Americans can still get a COVID-19 vaccine for free. If you’re looking to get vaccinated, options are available for both free and low-cost vaccines:

  • For people with health insurance, most plans will cover COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you.
  • People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers; state, local, tribal, or territorial health department; and pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program.
  • Children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program also may receive the vaccine from a provider enrolled in that program.
  • Some pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens offer free flu shots.

    Learn more about vaccines on the DDPHE immunization website.

Good Health Hygiene for All Holiday Season

  • One week prior to your event: if your holiday gathering will include high-risk individuals like young kids or those over the age of 65, consider wearing a face covering in crowded public areas, like grocery stores, big box stores, airports, etc., Make sure everyone is vaccinated for the flu and RSV, if eligible. Wash your hands frequently.  
  • Two days before and the day of your event:take a COVID-19 at-home antigen test! Anyone with a positive test should STAY HOME! If you feel sick or show any symptoms of flu or COVID-19, STAY HOME and test.
  • After the event: if you start showing symptoms of flu or COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider to seek testing and treatment. Effective treatment for COVID-19 is available if it is administered within five to seven days of symptom onset.

Food Safety

Big holiday meals with loved ones offer an opportunity to taste the magic of the season. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to overlook the basics, but avoiding foodborne illness is simple. Here are some easy ways to make sure your holiday meal gets a round of applause and not a round of food poisoning.

  • Keep it clean: It's important for your food preparation area stays clean. That starts with handwashing. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling food. As you work, keep all surfaces and utensils clean. To avoid cross-contamination, prepare food in separate areas. Keep raw meet away from vegetables or other uncooked food. Never handle cooked and raw food at the same time.
  • Defrost your bird: More than likely, the turkey you buy at the supermarket is frozen, so purchase it early enough to allow adequate time for thawing. There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, soaking in cold water or by microwave. Learn the specifics of defrosting your turkey on the DDPHE holiday food safety blog. Additionally, don’t wash the turkey as it spreads potential bacteria and can cause cross-contamination; cooking it to the right temperature kills any bacteria.
  • Cook immediately after thawing: Cook that bird as soon as it is thawed, especially if you are thawing your turkey in cold water or by microwave. Don’t thaw the turkey days ahead and then put it back in the refrigerator. Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer on the innermost part of the thigh and wing, as well as the thickest part of the breast, to ensure it’s well-cooked.
  • Store leftovers properly: While preparing and serving, hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees or above. Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or below. Never let foods sit in the bacteria danger zone, between 40 and 140 degrees for more than two hours. Leftovers should be refrigerated quickly. Storing food in shallow containers allows more surface area exposure and quicker cooling.
  • Eat your leftovers: You have a limited window to enjoy refrigerated leftovers. Turkey leftovers are good in the fridge for up to four days. Casseroles and mashed potatoes can go up to five days. If you want them to last longer, put leftovers in the freezer, where they’ll last indefinitely. But for best quality, eat within four months.
  • Ask the professionals: You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline with any cooking questions at 1-888-674-6854. The hotline is open Thanksgiving Day from 6 a.m.-12 p.m. MST.


Good Health Hygiene for All Holiday Season

The holidays mean getting together with loved ones, and shopping and traveling in crowded places! It’s important to take precautions to protect yourself and others as you go about your holiday. In addition to protecting yourself, please remind your loved ones to take the following precautions to stay protected this holiday season:

  • Staying home when sick, including not visiting or interacting with people who may be at higher risk, including older adults, young children, and infants. What might feel like a mild cold for one person can be very serious for another person. This is important to preventing the spread of viruses and causing outbreaks, which put additional strain on the hospital system.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or upper arm sleeve when you cough or sneeze, throw away the tissue after you use it, and clean hands as instructed above.
  • Cleaning potentially contaminated surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, handrails, etc.
  • Avoiding sharing cups, eating utensils, and touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Seeing or calling a health care provider or doctor before going to a busy emergency department when you or your child has respiratory symptoms. Your provider can help you determine the best ways to manage symptoms and when it is important to be seen in the clinic, urgent care, or emergency department.
  • Animal Safety

    The holiday season means showing gratitude for our furry family members and their cold-nosed kisses. Because we love them so much, it’s important to make the holidays as pet-friendly as possible. Learn more about pet safety from tips from Denver Animal Shelter.

    Keep these things in mind before sharing your holiday meal with your pets:

    • Turkey – Never offer pets raw or undercooked turkey as it can contain salmonella bacteria. Keep the carcass and all bones away. Dogs and cats also have a hard time processing fatty foods like turkey skin.
    • Bread Dough – Yeast in raw bread dough will continue to convert sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol, a combination that could become life-threatening.
    • Pies and cakes – Raw eggs can lead to food poisoning. Also, the artificial sweetener xylitol in some desserts can be fatal if pets eat it.
    • Chocolates – Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, high blood pressure, seizures and other symptoms.

      Learn more information about keeping your pet safe this holiday season on the DDPHE blog.