7 Hidden Fourth of July Health Risks

Backyard barbecues, poolside parties and trips to the beach might be a few of the things you’re looking forward to most this Independence Day weekend, but they may bring about certain unexpected risks—especially when you have little kids running around. While I love summer celebrations just as much as the next person, as a health care provider, I’ve seen my fair share of injuries, illnesses and accidents that they can cause. Here are some safety reminders to keep in mind this Fourth of July.

Foodborne Illnesses

Did you know that an estimated 48 million Americans get sick from consuming contaminated foods or beverages each year? That’s one in six people. And most of the time it’s not from dining in restaurants—it’s from good, old home-cooked meals. The good news is that there are precautions you can take to protect you and your family. The first rule of thumb is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold—meaning, anything that’s meant to be refrigerated should be refrigerated, or at least kept on ice in a cooler that’s below 40 degrees. In the same vein, hot foods should be kept hot (no the summer sun doesn’t double as a heater). Cooked foods should be kept at 160 degrees or higher to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Also, don’t wait until your cookout or barbecue is over to put all food back in the refrigerator. Food shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours—and that shrinks to one hour if it’s above 90 degrees outside—which, in the Atlanta sun, is pretty attainable!

Salty Foods

It might be a holiday, but it’s no excuse not to watch what you eat, especially considering the fact that most beloved barbecue favorites are outrageously high in salt and sugar. What to watch out for: hot dogs (more than 1,400 milligrams of salt each); baked beans (more than 1,000 milligrams of salt per cup); burgers (around 500 milligrams of salt in a single patty). While macaroni and potato salads are a little harder to wage, since they’re often homemade, they’re guaranteed to be overloaded with saturated fats, so reduce your intake or opt for a healthier option like sliced veggies and hummus instead.


The first thing I like to remind grill masters is that they should own a fire extinguisher. Each year grills, barbecues and hibachis account for thousands of fires, hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,900 home fires involving grills and other outdoor cooking contraptions alone. Charcoal grills cause more fires than gas grills, so if you’re using a charcoal grill, make sure you know what you’re doing when you light those coals—and keep small children away from the grill at all times. Remember that grill smoke contains carbon monoxide, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) and other dangerous substances that are potentially cancer-causing. Gas grills are also dangerous, as bugs can crawl into the gas flow and cause problems.

The Sun

The summer sun is beautiful and feels so nice, especially when you’ve battled through an ice-cold winter. But skin cancer is serious and incidences are on the rise. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, if melanoma risks continue at the same rate, there will be 112,000 new cases diagnosed in the year 2030. That’s a lot folks. And your risk doubles if you’ve had just five sunburns throughout your life (which many of us have had). Protect yourself with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and one that does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, as these chemicals can be harmful. For babies older than six months, apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the body—and remember to focus on key areas, such as the face, ears, legs, arms, feet and hands, and to reapply every two hours. For those under six months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only applying sunscreen in rare instances where shade and protective clothing are not available.


Hydrating is so important, especially when the heat, humidity and summer sun can cause you to sweat and release far more water than you would during other seasons. It’s important to be aware of heatstroke, which is the most severe cases of dehydration. It may even cause someone to pass out, hallucinate or have a seizure. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and try your best to plan the majority of your outdoor activities for when the sun is not as strong (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.). Since babies and young children are unable to communicate that they are dehydrated, watch for signs such as fewer than six wet diapers in a 24-hour period, dark yellow urine, crying without producing tears, sunken eyes and lethargy. If you’re not sure how much breast milk, formula or fluid your baby needs, especially on hot days, talk to your pediatrician who can give you recommended guidelines. For older kids and even adults, I love recommending Ultima Replenisher (no, I’m not a spokesperson for them) I just love it! Think of it as a healthy form of the popular high-sugared sports drinks! Grab it from your favorite health foods store or order it online. It also dubs as a great rehydration drink when a stomach bug or virus hits your house.


They’re pretty spectacular and, by all means, you and your family should enjoy watching them, but avoid the DIY kind at all costs—especially around children. The same goes for sparklers, as children under six are at the greatest risk for burns and injuries from these hot-to-the-touch devices. If you’re watching your town’s fireworks display, just keep in mind that the noise can sometimes be too loud for little ears, so make sure to distance yourself enough in case your kiddo gets spooked.


It’s fun to watch your kids splish-splash in the pool, but you’ll want to watch carefully (with both eyes!) any time your child is near one. Even floaties do not guarantee a safe experience. Consider signing your little guppy up for swim classes and signing yourself up for CPR to make sure you’ll know what to do should there be any incidences. Some signs include: attempting to swim but not moving forward, hair in front of eyes, gasping for air, mouth at water level or the body positioned vertically in the water.


In Atlanta we have tons of summertime pests. But, no matter where you live, you’ll want to protect yourself with safe sprays. These can be hard to find, though, as many repellents on the market are loaded with harmful chemicals. Look for newer formulas that contain picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil and avoid fragrances and perfumes that are sweet, as they will lessen the strength of whatever bug spray you’re wearing. Garlic can also keep bugs at bay, so toss a few extra cloves in anything you’re cooking! If a bug bite looks suspicious, or is accompanied by additional symptoms such as a fever, headache and rash, contact your physician immediately.