Holiday myths debunked

Some holiday myths and legends are fun: sugarplum fairies, North Pole elves and flying reindeer. Others are simply misleading science. Here, we’ll clear up some misconceptions.

Myth 1: Alcohol can kill all the germs in my homemade eggnog

Let’s start from the beginning. Eggnog is made with eggs. Raw or unclean eggs are a big risk for Salmonella, which can cause food poisoning severe enough to ruin your holiday vacation. Therefore, using raw eggs in your eggnog presents a health risk.

Some say that the bacteria posed by raw eggs isn’t a big deal, because the alcohol in whatever rum, whiskey or bourbon you add will kill off the germs. But in fact, you probably can’t count on your booze to keep you safe here. Studies have shown that alcohol alone isn’t enough to kill bacteria in beverages.

Nonetheless, one famous recipe touted by researchers at Rockefeller University is made with 14% alcohol and left in the fridge for six weeks, which inhibits the growth of Salmonella until the bacteria dies on its own — much more alcohol and time than the typical party host puts into their own eggnog. It’s also not a foolproof method.

Even in the best cases, however, there’s another obstacle: all the other stuff that goes into eggnog, like heavy cream. Food safety expert Ben Chapman says, “The cream also complicates things in eggnog as it has fat in it — and high fat environments like peanut butter and chocolate serve to protect Salmonella cells.”

So, if you’re going to make eggnog, we recommend you check out our homemade eggnog safety infographic (which can be found here) before cracking any eggs.

Or, to play it super safe, consider store-bought eggnog, which is mostly likely pasteurized (heat-treated to kill bacteria).

Myth 2: Poinsettias are poisonous

It’s commonly said that poinsettias are dangerous if consumed, especially for young kids and pets. And in short, they aren’t good for you — but they aren’t as unsafe as you might think.

The rumor is thought to have stemmed from 1919, when a small child died after eating part of a plant assumed to have been a poinsettia. But according to the Poisindex Information Service, a 50-pound child would have to eat between 500 and 600 leaves before crossing a toxic threshold.

It’s still possible for the plant to cause mild mouth and stomach irritation, and in some cases even vomiting in both humans and animals. But even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says poinsettias are “generally over-rated in toxicity.”

Doctors reviewed over 22,000 cases of poinsettia exposure and found that 92% of people exposed, mostly children, showed absolutely no reaction to the plant. There has never been a documented and verified poinsettia-related death.

Here’s what WebMD says you should watch out for kids and pets swallowing over the holidays instead: small ornaments and decorations, alcohol sitting out at parties and toxic holly berries.

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