You don't have to give up this beloved holiday tradition. Here's how to stay safe and still have fun.

Krissy Brady; Reviewed by Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
November 06, 2020
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Lemon Sugar Cookies

The holidays are just around the corner, and because the coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down, it's time to rethink many—if not all—of our go-to holiday rituals so we can still enjoy them without putting ourselves or our loved ones at risk.

One of the most iconic (and delicious!) holiday traditions we can't bring ourselves to postpone? Cookie exchanges! Not only are they a convenient way to stock up on a variety of holiday goodies without breaking the bank, but nothing brings on the warm and fuzzies more than baking for the people we care about most. (Bonus: Holiday baking could help relieve stress!)

However, due to COVID-19, you'll likely want to take extra precautions this year to keep your swap as safe as possible.

"The major consideration with the transmission of this virus during the holiday season is that it's associated with close contact, in enclosed environments, with an infected person," says microbiologist Davida Smyth, Ph.D., a professor in the Interdisciplinary Science Program at The New School in New York City. "It's increasingly being recognized that the virus can travel through the air and be isolated from surfaces as well."

Here's how experts recommend planning and executing a safe holiday cookie exchange with your favorite people.

How to Plan a Safer Holiday Cookie Exchange

Plan Ahead

Try to keep the number of holiday cookie exchange participants small. Everyone who's participating should decide what they're comfortable with—maybe an outside swap or dropping off cookies for each other. You may also want to look at what's happening in your area. If the rate of infection and community spread is low, then you and your friends may feel more comfortable getting together in a small group.

Besides deciding on who's baking which cookies so there's no duplicate batches, Smyth recommends putting together a set of safety rules and guidelines (a fun checklist, perhaps) that participants can use before, during and after their cookie prep. It may feel like overkill, but getting on the same page and sharing information will also help your swap go more smoothly.

There should also be an agreement in place that if any of you don't feel well or are exposed to someone with COVID-19, you'll drop out of the cookie exchange right away.

Prep Your Kitchen

Before baking commences, basic food safety standards should be followed. "According to the CDC, the risk of contracting COVID-19 from food or packages is very low," says food safety and nutrition expert Toby Amidor, R.D., author of The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook. "As such, there's no need to wipe down packages you bring home from the store in bleach or detergent." Just make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after unloading your groceries.

Next, clean and sanitize your countertops, and get out your go-to baking gear, such as cookie sheets, measuring cups, bowls and spoons.

Follow Precautions While Baking and Packaging Your Holiday Cookies

Washing your hands is always important before you start prepping food. "If you take a bathroom break, take out the garbage, speak on your cell phone, or do any other task while baking, rewash your hands before continuing," says Amidor. (P.S.- 99% of us are washing our hands wrong. Here's how to do it the right way.)

"Wearing a mask and shield while baking on your own isn't necessary, and there are no special clothing change requirements needed," says Ellen Turner, M.D., board-certified infectious diseases physician and adjunct faculty instructor at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Enlisting the help of someone in your household is fine too, so long as they're feeling well and wash their hands.

When you're baking, try not to touch your face. As you should every year, but especially this year, wash your hands before you package your cookies. Once they're cool, put them in a cute container so they're ready to go (we love these holiday-themed packages from Amazon, $18 for 28).

Exchange Your Holiday Cookies the Safe Way

The safest way to complete your holiday cookie exchange is contactless delivery, where you drop the cookies off at each other's doors. You could text your friends after the drop, or give them a friendly hello from six feet away outside. "The idea is to limit face-to-face contact, since even with masks, there's still some risk of transmitting the virus," says Turner. Then you can set up a time to meet on Zoom and enjoy your creations together.

If you do decide to meet in person to make the swap, check with local limits on the size of in-person gatherings due to COVID-19. The CDC has tips for keeping holiday gatherings as safe as possible, like hosting outside, opening windows if you are indoors, wearing masks inside and keeping it small.

"If a decision to meet and share cookies in person has been made, and weather in your community allows, any opportunity to meet outside is better than inside," says Turner. "Risk of COVID-19 spread is higher in areas that are less well-ventilated."

While this year's holiday cookie exchange may look a little different this year, Turner says, "It can still be fun and tasty for everyone. Be a safe cookie!"