One of the tips for avoiding the flu is to stay away from a crowd, but who wants to miss holiday parties? Whether it’s the family Thanksgiving dinner or the neighborhood Christmas bash, there are few things that can be done to help minimize the spread of germs.

What the party host can do

  • Provide a way for people to identify their drinks.
    Wine glass charms can help your guests identify their glasses.
    Lifehacker has a great suggestion to use window markers to mark up regular glassware. Have your guests draw anything they want to identify their own glasses. The marker will come off in the wash, but not on your guests’ hands.
    If you’re using plastic cups, buy recycled plastic cups (Preserve makes good ones) that you can feel less guilty about. You can have guests write their names on them with a permanent marker.

  • Give every dish a utensil. Normally at parties there are dishes of peanuts, pretzels or candies that people reach into for a nibble. Put spoons or another appropriate utensil in these dishes so people can spoon out the snacks instead of reaching their hands in.
  • Provide plenty of soap in the bathroom and disposable towels for guests to dry their hands with. Yes, a cloth hand towel is more environmentally friendly, but we’re going for health-friendly here. A roll of recycled paper towels on a pretty holder will do the trick and won’t be very expensive. You could also buy disposable guest hand towels – try to find ones made from recycled paper if you can.
  • If you or someone in your home comes down with a bad cold or the flu before the party, it’s best to cancel. Confining a sick child to his room for the party doesn’t confine the germs he’s spread around earlier in the day. Sure, it can be a disappointment, but your guests will be much more disappointed if they catch something for the remainder of the holidays.
What the party guest can do
  • Wash your hands often.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, walk away from the crowd. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve. If you do end up coughing or sneezing into your hands, wash them immediately.
  • Don’t let anyone else drink out of your glass. If you’re unsure if someone has taken a sip from it, throw the drink out and wash the glass or get a fresh one.
  • Keep your hands out of community food. Only handle food with your hands once it’s been put on your plate.
  • Don’t accept a taste from someone else’s utensil or let them take a taste from your plate with his utensil.
  • Keep the hello greeting kisses to a minimum, and do them on the cheek.
I realize that some of these practices might be wasteful, and under different circumstances I wouldn’t advise them. However, with the regular seasonal flu going around as well as the H1N1 virus, precaution is important.

Do you have any additional tips for keeping your guests and yourself away from germs at gatherings this holiday season?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.